Never before had there been a girl in her school’s chess club. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe the boys chased the girls out. Or maybe the girls at her school thought chess was too hard. Or maybe the teachers discouraged girls from joining.
Whatever the reason, Asha knew she belonged there. Her mom had taught her to play when she was a four-years-old, loud, and rambunctious tot. She said, “Chess will settle you down, help you learn to concentrate and sit still.”
And her mom had been right. By the time Asha entered school, she’d become able to focus. She’d learned to channel her energy into mindful activities rather than causing random chaos all around her.
Unfortunately, she was the only one in her class who played chess. And none of the neighborhood kids would play chess with her, either. “You’re too strong for us,” they’d complain.
So, Asha only had her mom to play. But her mom always said that Asha meant “full of life” or “a lively woman”. That made Asha believe she could join the chess club even though only boys were in it.
She just KNEW she was good enough, despite the fact that the club was for the older students, like third and fourth graders, and she was only in first grade.
Today, she was going to do it! She planned to go right to the classroom where the chess club was held after school. She planned to walk in as if she belonged. And she WOULD belong. She’d show them that she could play, that she was as good as them, that she belonged.
Asha stood outside the classroom. She was building up her courage to open the door. She could hear sounds through the door, voices shouting, “Check,” “Checkmate,” or “It’s your turn!” and other muffled words.
Taking a deep breath, she pulled open the door. It felt heavy but she wrestled it open. Peering inside, she saw boys of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some were running around shouting, some were huddled in small groups talking quietly, but most of them were sitting across from each other at the classroom desks. With a chess board between them.
When Asha stepped in, the chess club coach looked kindly at her, “Are you lost, little girl?” he asked.
Boldly, Asha spoke up, “No,” she said loudly, “I came to play chess.”
The room went quiet. Some of the boys snickered. Mostly, though, they all watched the coach, to see his reaction.
“Ahhh,” the coach replied, “This club is for older children.”
Dismayed, Asha could feel her determination slipping. Yet, she tried again, “Please just let me try. I know I can do it.!”
The roomful of boys again waited for the coach. It was clear they expected him to send the little girl away. They were surprised when he relented. Or pretended to.
He said, “Wellll. . . if you want to take a chance, I’ll have you play Rodrigo. If you can beat him, you can be in the club.
All the boys hid smiles as they gathered around. They knew the coach wasn’t planning to let Asha into the club because Rodrigo was the best player in the club. No one could beat him! Even the coach lost to him once in a while.
Asha, however, didn’t know Rodrigo or his reputation. She didn’t even know that this was a test she was supposed to fail. All she knew was that she was being given a chance.
Happily, she slid into the chair across from Rodrigo. She adjusted a couple of pieces on her side of the chess board, then reached out to shake his hand, “Good luck.” She uttered the words her mom’d taught her were always said before a game.
Surprised, Rodrigo shook her hand and said, “Good luck.” back. “You go first.” he added.
Quickly, Asha slid back out of her seat. “Then, we should trade chairs since the white pieces are always first,” she explained when Rodrigo looked puzzled.
She realized she’d done something right when a few of the boys giggled and Rodrigo sheepishly got up and traded chairs. Clearly, she’d passed some kind of test.
Once they were both settled in their chairs, Asha reached out and pushed her King’s pawn up two squares. Several of the boys gasped and Rodrigo gulped. Asha wondered what they were reacting to until she heard a stage whisper from the back of the group, “She knows to focus on the center squares! Rodrigo better watch out!”
With that, Asha relaxed and the room disappeared as all her concentration was on the board. She didn’t hear the boys’ comments, the coach’s shushes when they got too loud, Rodrigo’s muttering.
It didn’t matter, now, that it had taken all her courage to walk into the chess club. Or that she’d been afraid of what the boys would say when she did. It didn’t even matter if she won or lost this game.
Because Asha knew that she’d been brave enough to walk in. And, if she DID manage to win this game, she knew she’d always try her best in any chess game.
And, most of all, she knew that, no matter what she faced in the future, she would always try her best to succeed.