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The child who wins the prestigious Arnold Denker Tournament of High School Champions earns not only a full scholarship to college but also the right to represent the United States in worldwide competition, all expenses paid. In 2000, there were five full scholarships given away at the Denker. If the process for determining which child represented the District of Columbia at the Denker were fair and equitable, I would support it 100 percent. But I do not think one can watch the tragedy of children being denied opportunities to win scholarships to college and not be moved to try to do whatever one can to help the situation.
As you walk into the basement of 1501 M St. NW, where the U.S. Chess Center is located, the first thing you might see is a large plaque with about 50 nameplates on it—the U.S. Chess Center Roll of Honor. This plaque is dedicated to identifying significant contributors to the U.S. Chess Center such as the Arcana Foundation, the Meyer Foundation, and many others. Notable contributors listed include individuals such as Oliver North, but the biggest surprise is the nameplate for Arnold Denker. As you read the names on the plaque you realize that these contributors must have given above and beyond to be identified in such a distinguished way. There is also a nameplate on the Roll of Honor dedicated solely to Johnny Sadoff, plus another dedicated to the Sadoff family.
Johnny Sadoff has represented the District of Columbia five years in a row at the Denker. No other child in the history of the tournament has ever gone for five years. Johnny’s mother, Elizabeth Sadoff, until recently sat on the board of directors for the U.S. Chess Center. Imagine that after four years of sending the same child, you send him for the fifth year clearly aware that he is not even eligible to win the scholarship because only juniors or below are eligible. What dignity is there in denying a disadvantaged, inner-city D.C. student (who almost certainly can’t afford to pay to go to private high school, let alone college) the opportunity to win a full scholarship?
The U.S. Chess Center claims its authority to hold the qualifying tournament from the D.C. Chess League. Guess where the D.C. Chess League is located (according to the U.S. Chess Federation)? C/O U.S. Chess Center, 1501 M St.
Guess who the president of the D.C. Chess League is? Ralph Mikell, who is also the treasurer on the board of directors for the U.S. Chess Center. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that the U.S. Chess Center also holds the annual D.C. Public Schools Championship and the winner of the high school section gets a trophy saying “D.C. High School Champion.” (I’ve seen the trophies.) Yet the child who is given the trophy and title doesn’t go to the Denker, and a child who does not win the title and trophy goes to represent D.C. at a tournament of high school champions.
The U.S. Chess Center, which has a 20-year, rent-free lease, on a space that would otherwise cost at least $105,000 per year, claims to work especially with disadvantaged inner-city youth. Its Web site boasts that it has helped more than 40 D.C. public schools in the last two years. It also claims to have taught more than 10,000 children chess since its doors opened. The stated philosophy of the U.S. Chess Center is that it “places a low priority on winning.” How, then, can our children, who are so far behind and have lost so much, ever be in position to win chess
scholarships or represent the United States in the Olympics? (Chess is an Olympic sport.) Or is it that the “low priority on winning” philosophy applies only to those who are unknowing and have not?
On Aug. 8, 2001, the D.C. Board of Education, clearly recognizing the need to address an unfair situation, unanimously passed a resolution stating that “the Board of Education will be the sole, official entity to certify the District of Columbia representative to the annual Denker Tournament of High School Champions.” What gives the U.S. Chess Center the right to dissolve the cohesion between the people, their privileges, and governmental process?
Olympic Chess House