At Brooklyn Prospect, the Majestic Owls Move with a Purpose - Brooklyn Prospect Charter School

At Brooklyn Prospect, the Majestic Owls Move with a Purpose

It’s a torrentially rainy Saturday in March, and the Downtown Elementary School (DTES) library is awash with parents sitting on small chairs or bean bags looking at their phones, reading magazines, or tending to their toddlers. Outside the library, there’s delicious homemade food —mac and cheese, cookies, and more—along with t-shirts, books, and trinkets for sale. Two levels down in the cafeteria are their school-aged children, but you wouldn’t know it because it’s quiet except for the sound of the chess clocks that get tapped after each move. This is Saturday for the Majestic Owls—Brooklyn Prospect’s elementary school’s chess club and competitive team.

The club comprises Prospectors from all three elementary schools in the network—DTES, International Elementary School (IES), and Sunset Yards Elementary School (SYES). Students express interest if they want to compete, or are tapped to join the competitive wing of the Majestic Owls.

They are coached by National Chess Master Stephen Colding, or “Mr. C, ” as he’s known to the hundreds of kids he’s coached in the five years he’s worked as an independent contractor with Brooklyn Prospect. He is the CEO and founder of Chess for Children, and author of “Teach Your Child Chess in 10 Easy Lessons.”

Colding, who grew up in the Wyckoff Gardens Projects in Brooklyn, said his uncle, who was raised in Germany, taught him to play chess. However, a family tragedy was the impetus for his career.

I got into teaching chess because I witnessed a senseless family tragedy that left a child in tears,” he said. “I realized that if the person had just thought about what they did before they did it, they could’ve avoided the whole tragedy. And that’s what chess is—thinking one step ahead. So I quit both of my jobs, broke down doors and any barriers, and started teaching chess to children.

Colding has been teaching for 50 years. “Kids are special. They’re the greatest,” he said. “If you show them you’re sincere, the feedback is better than anything else. And with chess, we’re giving them an opportunity.”

The young players are very fond of their coach and enthralled with the game.

What I like about it is that it could end up in any way and it’s unexpected because anyone can play any move,” said Amadeus L, a fourth grader at IES who has been playing with the Majestic Owls for two years. “You just have to go with the game.”

Parents are equally as enthusiastic. “My daughter just took to it so quickly,” said Jessica Wurwarg, whose daughter attends DTES. “We were in Austria last year, and they were playing with these giant chess pieces on the street, and she just kept watching. She loves it.

She doesn’t like to lose, though,” Wurwag smiled.

Parent HyunJoo So recently transferred her sons into IES and said the chess program played a big factor in her decision to switch schools. “I always believed in the benefits of chess and firmly believe that it’s a conduit to showcase what children learn in school, both from a STEM and a creative perspective,” So said. “The idea of being able to view situations from both a big picture as well as detailed as possible will give them such an advantage in life.”

Next up for the Majestic Owls are preparing to attend the National Championships in Columbus, Ohio, from April 25 to April 29. That’s why the club, helped by a group of parents, holds fundraising tournaments with an all-you-can-eat buffet, t-shirt, toy, and book sales that keep the adults and younger children fed and busy while the players compete.

And now that Prospect Schools has a third elementary school at the Sunset Yards campus, Colding has more Majestic Owls on his hoot of a team.

“Sunset Yards is looking very promising because it’s made up of kindergarteners, first graders, and maybe a few second graders,” Colding said. “They’re very enthusiastic! They did very well at the Scholastic State Championship in Saratoga in March, which was their first time!”

The team’s next big goal is hosting the 2025 NYC Scholastic Elementary Chess Championships (K-5) in 2025. While the Majestic Owls have competed in states and nationals, this would be the first time Brooklyn Prospect hosts a city-wide tournament. Those interested in getting involved via sponsorships or other ways should reach out to Colding at (631) 278-1677 or cldng1@yahoo.com.

Mr. C. with two Majestic Owls