Lathon sees new chess club play a vital role in the West Point community

WEST POINT Chance Dumas rested his head on his hands, staring intently at the board with a look as serious as any second grader can get. Playing black, he deliberately moved his bishop diagonally across the board to capture an opponent’s piece, removing his prize from the board and placing it to the side, never changing his expression.

If Harold Lathon’s wishes come true, there will soon be many more people, children and adults alike, gazing intently at the chessboards on Saturday morning in the Ester Pippen Boardroom at Bryan Public Library at West Point.

Lathon, a basketball star at West Point High School (class of 1976) and two-time mayoral candidate, is very committed to the value of chess, especially to young people.

“It gives them self-discipline, teaches them the consequences of their actions or inactions,” he said after the Fifth Street Bombers Chess Club‘s initial meeting on Saturday. “Should I make this move; shouldn’t I be doing this movement? It is also an opportunity to prepare them for certain life skills: perseverance, endurance, concentration, even mathematics.

Lathon almost sounds nostalgic when he talks about the West Point of his youth.

“Church, school or basketball was my life,” he said, fondly recalling the stories of the hours spent on the Fifth Street basketball courts, calling it a ritual. passage that today’s youth miss.

“The basketball courts offered a learning experience for those trying to learn the game, but also a very stimulating and mentoring environment for older players and adults who viewed the interaction on the basketball courts as more. than just a game, ”said Lathon. “Chess is quite similar to that.”

Of course, even if the basketball courts were there, the demands of the game would mean some people wouldn’t benefit. Enter chess.

“Since the basketball courts are gone and a lot of kids didn’t have the talent, physically, to play the game, but everyone has a mind,” Lathon said. “Chess is a sport. It doesn’t require a lot of physics, but the strategy is no different from soccer or basketball, and maybe even more.

While the gloomy weather likely helped keep turnout low, players between the ages of 7 and 70 made the trip to the library. Lathon said he was almost moved to tears when he heard Herbert Gunn tell him how Lathon’s mother, a longtime teacher in town, taught him to read and the impact it had on him.

Paulette Richmond Lathon taught for years at Fifth Street Junior-Senior High School prior to integration, then became the first African-American teacher at Central School. To date, Lathon supports a summer reading program at the library on his behalf.

And he appreciates the role of the library in starting the chess club.

“I am very happy with the partnership I have with Bryan Public Library to allow us to have the classes here,” said Lathon. “It really provides a good, clean, safe and healthy environment. “

And the library is delighted to welcome the club there.

“It is exciting news for our community and the Bryan Public Library to be in partnership to host these chess lessons,” said Bryan Librarian Priscilla Ivy. “By giving our children and our community this opportunity to learn an engaging game while learning important life skills, chess will be at the forefront of the development of our next generation of leaders.”

A potential next generation leader is Naythanis Montgomery, a student at West Point High School.

“We had a young lady here today, 13, and she said she wanted to play, and she’s an athlete,” Lathon said. “You rarely find athletes who also know how to play chess at the age of 13 in this community.

“I was a little surprised, but she insisted that the most difficult games she had had were not playing football or basketball, but some of the chess games she had had. had with his brother. “

It’s music to Lathon’s ears, who toured the room playing simultaneously against everyone who came to the library, as the great American chess master Bobby Fischer did. This seems reasonable, given that Lathon’s interest in the game began when he saw a copy of “Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess” in the library.

For young Chance, the introduction was more direct: he is Lathon’s nephew.

“When I came to see my aunt and uncle, I started playing chess,” says Dumas, 7. “I’ve never played before.”

He said he liked it when his uncle asked him about the songs, and that day he always got the right answer.

“It’s a pretty competitive game and I think I can get down to it,” he said. “I just like to play chess.”

Lathon knows that whatever good chess can provide means nothing if the game is not enjoyed. The image of the game can be somewhat intimidating, but the atmosphere of the Fifth Street Bombers Chess Club should remove that obstacle.

Lathon said, “We are just thrilled to be able to touch some of the hearts and minds of students and adults who may want to have fun in the game of chess. “

The club meets Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon at the library, and although there is a break during the holidays, meetings will be held on a regular weekly schedule starting January 8. For more information, contact Lathon at 769-226-6486.

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