Every year, more and more hospitalized kids are getting magnetic chess boards inside of chess-themed backpacks thanks to a local nonprofit created in honor of Sean Reader, a young Santa Clarita Valley chess champion who died of leukemia.
More than 100 people attended the 10th Annual Sean’s Fund Dinner Sunday. They included community leaders, chess parents, former chess families and supporters of Reader’s family.
During the fundraiser at the Robinson Ranch Golf Club – recently renovated following damage sustained during the Sand Fire – Adam Draheim earned the Sean Reader Award for young men and Natasha Mertens earned the same award for young women.
“In 2006, Sean’s Fund was set up to offer financial aid for Santa Clarita children who could not afford classes, camps, tournaments, and special events,” said Jay Stallings, director of the Valencia-based nonprofit, California Youth Chess League.
“Since that time, we have expanded to host special mentoring competitions with Grandmasters, similar events by our top students and coaches, and our popular program that brings chess-themed backpacks to young patients at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, City of Hope, and other hospitals that house children for extended stays,” he said.
The local chess league brings magnetic chess boards, and the backpacks that contain them, to hospitalized children in Denver and – beginning this past year – to kids in Africa.
“This year, we introduced three new programs that will benefit the youth of our world,” Stallings said. They include:
– A Training Program for tournament-bound young players.
– The presenting of an annual award called, the Sean Reader Excellence in Chess & Leadership Award.
– A program to deliver our chess-themed backpacks to hospitals in Uganda.
“This final program is made possible due to our growing connection with the SOM Chess Academy near Kampala that has recently opened and is led by Robert Katende,” Stallings said.
The non-profit was inspired to extend its charity to Africa after welcoming a Ugandan chess champion to the Santa Clarita Valley – a young woman whose story prompted production of the recently released Disney movie, The Queen of Katwe.
The young chess champion’s name is Phiona Mutesi who first came to Santa Clarita in December 2012 as a guest of the Trinity Classical Academy Chess Club in Valencia.
Mutesi transformed her life through chess.
And, in many ways, Sean Reader transformed his short life having also excelled because of his chess skills.
Sean Reader attended first grade at Meadows Elementary School and was excited at the chance to join the chess team there. Three years later, he won the title of Southern California State Third Grade Champion.
And, he didn’t stop there.
In 2005, he became the Western States Sixth Grade Champion – ranked in the national top 100 and ranked in the top three of Southern California chess players his age.
Just days after being diagnosed with leukemia, Reader boarded a plan with his team heading to the 2005 SuperNationals in Nashville Tennessee.
There he put his illness out of his mind and played the best chess of his life, according to Stallings.
He finished with five wins and only two losses against the best elementary school players in the United States, leading his team to a tie for second place nationally.
“Sean helped us realize that the time to be brave was when the odds were stacked against you,” Stallings said in 2014.
He was 12 years old when he died Aug. 14, 2006.
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