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SPORT Academy Teaches Students to Checkmate the Game of Life

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Edward Trimble learned to see chess as a metaphor for life when he was a youth being coached in the game by an older friend. His coach used the game to engage him in what he calls “a personal development process,” focused in particular on the pawn.

“Every time you see a pawn, you should see potential,” Trimble said, “and every time you see potential, you should see power. Every young person you see, you should see as if they were pawns on a chess board—they all have potential, and they all have power.”

The potential Trimble describes is the possibility that a pawn—if it finds its way across the chess board—can become any piece chosen by the player. A queen, for example. The queen is the most powerful piece on any chess board. The potential of the pawn is realized when it crosses the board; its power is actualized when it transforms to a higher-ranked game piece.

As an adult, Trimble began to coach young people in the game of chess and to mentor them toward finding their own potential and realizing their power as people. In 2013, he founded an organization, SPORT Academy, to teach these lessons on a larger scale. SPORT Academy runs after-school programs at Clemente, Brennan Rogers, Fair Haven, and Wexler, as well as additional New Haven schools through an affiliation with LEAP.

The potential of the pawn forms the basis of a winning strategy, Trimble said. “The power of the pawn lies in your perception of the pawn,” he said. “Many people sacrifice their pawns at the beginning of the game. I prefer to sacrifice my bigger pieces and try to hold onto the pawns.

“In life, if you don’t act on your potential, you will become a sacrificial piece,” he added.

During afterschool programming, SPORT Academy team members serve as both chess coaches and life mentors, Trimble said. “Our goal is to produce independent thinkers and leaders of the next generation.”

Because he believes in promoting student health, Trimble often pairs chess instruction with coaching in basketball, a sport that also moves players across a field of play.

“Both games allow you to access the imagination,” Trimble said. “Michael Jordan, when he is playing the game, his imagination takes over. He sees those moves, calculating ahead of his opponent, and he sees the endgame of making the basket.

“In chess, you try to think five moves ahead, or six,” he added. “If you are really good, you might do 10 moves ahead.”

By engaging students with chess and basketball, Trimble hopes SPORT Academy can help boost school attendance and participation. “I want students to understand the purpose of education,” he said. “If we can reach one kid, he can reach nine more.”