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On Chess: Cops And Kids Team Up To Play Chess And Build Relationships

Austin Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club

CHESS Cops was launched in February 2017. What began as a simple breakfast with officers and students enjoying chess over coffee and orange juice ultimately expanded into a multifaceted community outreach program.

The St. Louis Chess Club, St. Louis schools, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the St. Louis County Police Department partnered to start St. Louis CHESS Cops — or Chess Helping Enhance Student Skills. CHESS is currently comprised of city and county police officers who utilize chess to teach lessons on critical thinking, planning and logic.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort.”

The outpouring of support from the officers was beyond anything we could have hoped. CHESS ignited the first Spring Break Chess Camp at Gary Gore Elementary, which brought 23 students and 12 officers together for a full week of chess and collaboration.

Credit Austin Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club

School principals also showed their support. In May, Carr Lane VPA Middle School held an end-of-year CHESS celebration. Eight officers arrived amid a fresh heat wave (one even rode in on a bicycle) to enjoy an afternoon of sportsmanship with the 30 students who make up the Carr Lane chess team.

The students were well prepared by longtime teacher and chess coach Darnell Young, with Principal Darwin Young beaming over the players' success.

Credit Austin Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club

A modest goal was set to reach 40 hours of chess with students across the board. To date, 24 officers have given more than 120 hours of their time to make this program a success. 

Credit Austin Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club

Please take a moment to thank them and read the testimonials from a few of our champions:

  • Lt. Col Gerald Leyshock
  • Officer Darrin Young
  • Lt. Christi Marks
  • Sgt. Benjamin Granda
  • Sgt. Matthew Manley
  • Sgt. David Berkeley
  • Sgt. Jennifer Williams
  • Lt. Henry Dilworth
  • Detective Fred Bell
  • Lt. Troy Doyle
  • Officer Marvis Moody
  • Officer Amber Hawkins
  • Officer Jonathan Hamilton
  • Officer Brandon McCrary
  • Officer Ashley Meyer
  • Officer Brandon Sierra
  • Officer John Herman
  • Officer Jodie Easton
  • Officer Paul Henkhaus
  • Officer Roxanne Ali
  • Officer Erin Hine
  • Officer Sam Thomas
  • Officer Christin Widbin
  • Officer Tom Daily

“Being a part of the CHESS Cops program is an incredibly rewarding experience. Every time I sit across the board from a young participant, we share a great conversation that may or may not have anything to do with the competition at hand. My only hope is that my opponents get as much out of the program as I do.” - Sgt. Benjamin Granda
“In one word, rewarding. Seeing the smiles on the children's faces as they play chess with an officer has been a great experience. Being able to help kids learn chess, while also improving the relationship between young people in our region and police officers, has been a wonderful opportunity and a great idea.” - Sgt. Matthew Manley

“Since the CHESS Cops program started, I have had the pleasure of meeting and playing against over 35 youngsters enrolled in city schools. The vitality and energy they bring as they play a game of chess has been invigorating to me. It has been very rewarding to interact with such bright and personable young people as they strive to learn and compete in the noble game of chess.” - Lt. Col. Gerald Leyshock

“I love the look on their faces when I tell them they taught me something new and I am becoming a better player because of them. It’s priceless. I’m learning strategy and skills from such young bright minds that it gets me so excited for what the future of our community and country has to offer. Having organizations and people interested in investing in this endeavor and our children will build positive relationships between police and our youth — a win-win for our community, our department and our future.” - Lt. Christi Marks

“What I enjoyed about the cops and kids CHESS program is that it brings communities together. Cops and kids come together to compete at a challenging level of wits. This program takes the time to build trust and kindness within our neighborhoods. We get to know each other rather than treating each other as strangers.” - Officer Darrin Young

At the end of the school year, we took a moment to lift up our officers and remember one of our community members.

Janet Torrisi-Mokwa, the late wife of Captain Joseph Mokwa, was a true patron of chess, a lifelong learner and educator. In June, a memorial tournament was held in her honor, with officers and first responders gathering from all over St. Louis to engage in their first-ever chess tournament.

Captain Mokwa was presented with an engraved chess board that will remain at the St. Louis Chess Club in the hopes that all who play on it embody her spirit for learning and the love of chess. 

Kyle Weber is scholastic manager for the St. Louis Chess Club.