By Jennifer Champagne, Communications Specialist, Live Oak Public Libraries 

It is easy to find the meeting spot for Kids’ Chess Club at Oglethorpe Mall Library. Just follow the noise. kids playing chess

Chess Club is a bi-weekly gathering spot for teens, tweens, and even younger children. With the gentle assistance of Coach Barrett James, Kids’ Chess has taken off as an exciting and engaging after-school program.

Coach Barrett had previously done some chess coaching at a few local schools until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. He visited the library this summer, noticed the children’s area, and thought starting a chess club could be a good idea.

And library staff agreed.

“When the idea of starting a Chess Club for kids at the Oglethorpe Mall Library was presented, I was delighted!” says Library Assistant Zanita Harris.

The excitement is truly infectious. At chess club, you can also find parents and caregivers who want to play “just one game” with their kids. (Talks have even begun about starting an adult chess club!)

But this group is about more than just playing a game. Chess club is a meeting of the minds, where everyone, regardless of age, is teaching one another, playing with one another, and engaging with one another. And this unique program is growing.

“We get enthusiastic new members each meeting, and I am pleasantly surprised that there are so many children with an interest in playing and learning how to play chess,” continued Harris. “This program has been a great success. I am grateful to Coach Barrett James for sharing his passion for chess and his wealth of chess resources with our young patrons.”

Even youth with no chess experience feel comfortable attending.

Josiah and Elliot, both age eight, only started playing chess around the start of the program, but they are fast learners, opening up with strategy and thoughtful moves.

“I love it! It’s so fun,” said Elliot. “I like complicated stuff and this is, like, one of those complicated plus easy games.”

And while both have chess sets at home and Josiah even has the opportunity to play at school – “Oh, that’s so cool. I’ve never heard of having a chess place at school,” quickly added Elliot – the two still find that undeniable camaraderie at Kids’ Chess Club.

Even library staff are learning how to play.

“Though I had no prior knowledge of how to play chess, Coach Barrett has been kind and patient with both the children and myself, and I am proud to say that my knowledge is growing every day,” Harris said. “I now know enough to sit down and actually play a game!”

Coach Barrett also utilizes (pronounced lee-chess), a free online chess server when teaching beginners and seasoned players how to open games and strategize. The website also hosts chess puzzles, computer analysis, tournaments, and even chess variants for those looking for something new or an extra challenge. But even more importantly, the site also enables those who may not have physical chess sets, whether at home or at their library, to still practice and hone their skills.

“We are just starting out and so far so good,” says Coach Barrett. “Check back next year for an update.”