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Southern Regional Champs Celebrates Increasing Female Participation Print E-mail
By Jessica E. Prescott & Elena Salazar   
May 22, 2014
Elena Salazar and Jessica Prescott
The last match in a large room: two young ladies feverishly place their pieces, sharply inhale, punch their clock, peer over at the spectators behind the glass. Zoe declines a draw offer, despite having only a few minutes left on her clock, struggling to figure out how to win with two extra pawns in a difficult king, rook and pawn ending. Veronica captures another pawn and closes the gap to a single pawn advantage for Zoe. Both girls agree to a draw.

Tournament Director Dominique Myers congratulates them quietly as an enormous weight lifts from the room. Veronica Skoczek (11th grade, Charlotte, N.C.) and Zoe Justice (4th grade, Lithia Springs, G.A.) split the top prize Saturday, at the Southern Girls Regional Chess Championship in Charlotte, a $500 cash college scholarship.     

The Queen City hosted the girls-only event, as 34 players from across the Southeast competed for prizes and pride at Providence Day School. Justice and Skoczek shared top honors in the Championship section with Justice taking home the first place trophy. Hrishika Roychoudhury won the Under 1000 section, Julia Brighton topped Under 500, and Imani Ethridge won first in the Unrated section.
Organized by Jessica Prescott and Elena Salazar of North Carolina’s Over the Chessboard, the first-ever Southern Girls Regional Championship gave players from ages 4 to 19 the opportunity to come together to match wits and celebrate girls’ chess. There was face painting and a giant chessboard outside.

Only 15 percent of United States Chess Federation members are female, and locally those numbers are even smaller. Prescott says she is motivated to keep the culture of chess growing for boys and girls alike.

Whether playing recreationally or competitively, it's not always easy to be one of only a few girls. But it is possible to find support. “As a parent of a female chess player, I've seen the importance of encouraging young girls to practice, stick with chess and play their own game,” Salazar said. "It was great to meet other supportive parents and grow this conversation. We hope to find like-minded businesses to help sponsor our tournament next year."


Author and chess promoter Rosalyn Katz kicked off the tournament by applauding the players, relaying stories of acting on her own behalf to get an equal opportunity for women chess players, and telling parents "it was an honor to meet all the exquisite young chess players - everyone gorgeous and brilliant." Roz stayed to sign individual copies of unique cartoons, Zaria, published in Chess Life for Kids, and personally wrote a note to each participant.

South Carolina chess advocate Tori Watley, who finished third in the Championship section, closed the day with encouraging words for the young girls. "I'm so proud of where I'm from, that they would support me in chess when football, baseball and basketball are the attention-getters," Watley said.  "Through local support, I've been able to travel and now [receive] a top-notch education." Watley was awarded the 2013 Susan Polgar scholarship to attend Webster University.

The SGRCC was preceded by events at the Bechtler Museum where Over The Chessboard co-hosted a film reception with the Charlotte Film Lab and Charlotte Film Society, introducing chess to the film community.
awards.jpgThere were also public chess events to raise awareness for girls in chess at both 7th Street Public Market and Atherton Mill and Market. Children and adults from all over Charlotte participated in the blitz games and lessons.

SGRCC was also sponsored by the Bechtler Ensemble, Queen City Fencing, Sports Outreach Institute (SOI), short film "A Chess Player", Providence Day School Extended Day, Jill Martin Art Majeur, and host Over the Chessboard.
Future events include Southern Girls Take Initiative: a summer camp for girls, and Women, Wine & Chess on Wednesdays, to keep mothers competitive with their kids! OTCB always offers chess for boys and men, too. Our motto is: Chess for everyone!
Jessica Era Prescott has taught chess for 16 years in three states, recently ranked in the top 100 women in the US, and served as VP of Scholastics on the board of the North Carolina Chess Association.  Currently she authors weekly articles for chesskid.com, is the Director of Over The Chessboard, and is now coming out with a chess activity book for kids: My First Chess Book.

Elena Salazar is a chess coordinator for McAlpine Elementary School, served on the board of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools  Chess Association, and is now Project Manager/Instructor with Over The Chessboard.

For more information, visit overthechessboard.com.