MILWAUKEE — It began when Olga Thomas asked her neighborhood Facebook group if anyone wanted to play chess outside with her and her son. After an overwhelming amount of positive responses, the Bay View Knights Chess Club was born.
On a Sunday evening on Milwaukee’s southside, Thomas photographed the dozens of neighbors who came to play on her patio. While Thomas expected a handful of interested players when she started the club Facebook page, she has since bought additional tables, chairs and chess sets to accommodate the outdoor gatherings.
Elena Johansen learned to play chess last year, but the Glendale middle schooler’s first taste of competition in Bay View was an entirely new experience. Elena’s first season with her Glen Hills chess club was all online, as the district resumed in-person learning just after the season ended. So her first triumph in Bay View was her first face-to-face victory outside her own home.
“Playing online, you can’t really meet as many people with similar interests,” Elena said. “But right now there’s all these different people you can play and learn about, so this is amazing.”
Elena’s mother Viktoriya watched proudly as her daughter bounced from table to table seeking new matchups.
“She kind of finally found her thing that she’s really good at, and she’s really excited,” Viktoriya Johansen said. “Every parent wants to see their kid excited and doing well.”
The experience for Elena and her mom was beyond what Thomas could have hoped for when she posted a simple question to Bay View Town Hall.
“Coming out of COVID, I feel that we all crave the interaction,” she said. “This chess club opens an opportunity to socialize, as well.”
Thomas’s hope is to eventually relocate the new chess club from her patio to a Bay View park. Her hope is for Milwaukee County Parks to install permanent tables to allow outdoor play almost year-round. Bay View Knights Chess Club is open to all ages and skill levels, offering players the chance to learn the game, meet new people and, perhaps, find new opponents.