National chess champs make Bronx proud

These Bronx high school students may just be the greatest concentration of chess talent in the nation.

The Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics’ six-member chess team recently returned from the United States Chess Federation 2012 National K-12 Championships in Orlando, Florida covered in glory.

Three team members from the Crotona school captured the grade 12 championship, while team member Justus Williams was ranked the top individual ninth grader in the nation, said principal Edward Tom

School Chancellor Dennis Walcott gave the winning team a shoutout on their return.

“I want to congratulate the students of the chess team at Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics on winning the US Chess Federation’s National Chess Tournament for the 12th Grade,” said Walcott. “I also want to congratulate principal Tom for incorporating this program in the school.”

Walcott added: “These students have excelled in chess and these same qualities – determination and a drive to excel – are qualities that will benefit them in so many ways as they prepare for college and careers.”

The proud principal said all the students come from single parent families.

The fact that the school, at 1365 Fulton Avenue, is in the poorest congressional district in the nation, he added, only makes the achievement even greater.

“It is rare, almost to the point of unheard of, to have four nationally ranked chess players in one school,” said Tom, especially in a school that is not a private school, a specialized school, a school in an affluent community, or with a “screened” admission program.

“ … and miraculously you have … nationally ranked chess players that happen to be on one team,” he said.

“It was surreal,” said Tom. “To be able to say that you are the national champions in anything is an incredible distinction.”

Chess is not necessarily what is driving kids to Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics, said Tom.

He believes that it is the quality of the college preparatory curriculum that makes the school what it is.

“This small school in the south Bronx is developing a reputation that kids and parents are catching wind of, that we offer a college preparatory program for their kids,” said Tom. “We don’t necessarily offer an elaborate chess program here.”

He proudly listed the names and information on the winning team’s members:

•Ninth grade national champion Justus Williams is a 14-year-old chess phenom is the subject of a documentary film about youth chess players called Brooklyn Castle. He was the youngest African-American ever to reach master chess rating at the age of 12. His chess rating is 2,350. The “chess master” rating begins at 2,200.

•12th grader Matheu Jefferson was the sixth place finisher at the nationals. He is the second highest rated player on the team, at 2,096.

•Tae Kim, scored a fourth place finish at nationals and is in the 12th grade. He is the most improved with a 1895 rating.

•Jonathan Hidalgo, scored a 10th place finish at nationals, and is a 12th grader with a 1943 rating.

•Aleem Griffith is in the 12th grade and finished in 36th place at nationals with a 1509 rating.

•Antonio Castelan, finished in 55th Place at nationals, and is in 12th grade with a 1372 rating.

Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at or by phone at (718) 742-3393

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