NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Former basketball all star Magic Johnson is making a special to visit to the kids at Maplewood High School on Friday.
His message about hope and overcoming adversity comes on the heels of the school’s inaugural chess team defying odds by competing and winning against some of the best teams in the country.
With discipline and focus, the team is serious about winning.
Junior Kasey Perisutti told News 2, “You can have a little fun while you’re playing, but you also have to stay really focused or if you’re not really focused you could lose to the other team.”
The team is comprised of some of the top 25 players in the state and they probably played their first game of chess less than a year ago.
Coach Armin Begtrup said, “There was some concern that maybe it was a flop or something strange until they did it again for the second tournament and again for the third.”
They went on to state and then on to nationals, beating some incredible odds.
The homes they come from are very different than most of their competitors.
“Their biggest concern when they wake up is not really ‘how am I going to do at the chess tournament today’ but ‘how am I going to get to the chess tournament today,’” explained Coach Begtrup. “’Am I going to eat before I get there? Am I going to eat before midday?’”
Some of players take several Metro-Nashville MTA buses before the sun comes up just to get across town by 7 a.m. so they aren’t disqualified from the competition, and some of them have walked miles in the cold.
Coach Begtrup says they still get there on point and ready to win.
“One of the things I discovered this year is that where most people do see these kids as underdogs, and rightfully they could be called underdogs,” says Begtrup. “The kids no longer see it that way.”
After traveling to Atlanta last weekend the team placed 38th out of 250 teams at the High School National Championships.