First time a middle school ever wins the high school championship
Bedford-Stuyvesant 13-year-old chess prodigy James Black, Jr. led his I.S. 318 Williamsburg chess team to winning the National High School Chess Championship in Minneapolis earlier this week.
It is the first time a middle school has ever won the tournament, and is being compared in media outlets as akin to the NCAA basketball champs Kentucky beating NBA teams.
Making the championship even more unusual is that about 60 percent of I.S. 318 students are from families below the federal poverty level and the school bested such prestigious city schools as Stuyvesant High School, Edward R. Murrow High School and Hunter College High School to get to the tournament.
James Black, Jr., who was profiled in this newspaper in June 2011, along with teammate Justice Williams from the Bronx, are both ranked as masters and the best players on the team.
“My dad showed me how to play when I was eight after he bought a chess set at K-Mart,” said Black Jr. “I just got better and better.”
In this paper’s previous story on Black Jr., the young chess whiz said he dreams of one day being the youngest grandmaster ever in the United States.
And Black takes his skill very seriously; he practices outside of the chess club for about six hours a day.
“It seemed like an interesting game of war,” said Black, Jr. about what first attracted him to the world of chess.
Black, Jr. says that playing chess has strengthened his academic skills, noting the game helps him and his fellow students in reading, math and history.
James Black, Sr. tells a funny story about a time when it was James’ mother’s birthday and he was begging his mother to let him play chess.
“His mother would get upset with me because he wanted to play chess outside,” said Black, Sr. “I told her it’s not me, it’s him, he wants to play the game.”
Black, Jr. said he’s not sure what he wants to do when he grows up, but he contemplates becoming a chess teacher.
“It’s like being a professional basketball player — you do something you love for a living,” he said.