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'Brooklyn Castle' families turn to chess, avoid checkmate by Sandy (+video)

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"Brooklyn Castle" follows the lives of five members of the chess team at Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, a below-the-poverty-line inner-city junior high school that has won more national championships than any other in the nation. In the film, the biggest obstacle arises not from other competitors, but from budget cuts to extracurricular activities at the school. After Sandy hit on Oct. 30, those funding issues will probably be the Grandmaster of all opponents and the thing they are fighting to save, is the very thing empowering them to fight. 

In the movie, Pobo then in 7th grade, parented his teammates when they were faced with losing games, funding and hope. It was Pobo who offered life strategies based on the lessons he’d learned playing chess.

Like many parents watching the film, I said a silent prayer that any one of my four sons would be so caring as to sacrifice his own game in the cause of helping others achieve greatness.

His mother, Christiana Inuwere was not surprised by his behavior in the documentary. “Chess made him more mature,” she said. “He always was a soft heart for everybody, but chess made him. It added more to him.”

One student who didn’t make it to the green room, is Patrick Johnston, age 11 in the film, now 15 and living in Neptune, N.J. He was not one of the school’s star players, but became one of my instant favorites as he fought his own nature, using chess as a weapon against ADHD.

The hurricane and following nor’easter this week, plus the failing economy has forced Patrick’s family to change the game repeatedly in order to survive. Chess has been his anchor in a storm-tossed life.

“I won’t lie, it’s been rough for us in a lot of ways. In the storm, the lights went out and stayed out and no sooner did they go on than the snow storm knocked them right out again,” said Lisa Johnston. The family moved from Brooklyn to Neptune just over a year ago when her husband lost his printing job there and was offered one in Jersey. When her husband was laid off from the new job, Patrick’s mom opened a small shop “On Point” in Point Pleasant Beach last year. “I really don’t have much hope that the area around the shop will come back soon enough to help us out,” she said. So far, life has had this family in "check."

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