Every year for more than a decade now, people in the Santa Clarita Valley have rallied around the memory of a young Valencia chess player who inspired them to help bring chess to other young hospital patients.
This year marked the 11th annual Sean’s Fund Dinner which is held Sunday in honor of Sean Reader who was 12 years old when he died of leukemia in 2006.
The theme of this year’s dinner was “friends” of which there were many on hand, with about 130 people showing up at the Sand Canyon Country Club.
Money raised at the fundraiser was earmarked for chess scholarships and to buy magnetic chessboards for young cancer patients in hospitals, organizers said.
Jay Stallings, director of the Valencia-based nonprofit, California Youth Chess League, recapped a decade Sean’s friends helping sick children and, specifically, helping sick kids play chess.
“The financial assistance program was a new aspect of CYCL’s persona,” he told the dinner guests.
“Even though we had never turned away a student who couldn’t pay, we hadn’t been able to extend an open invitation to that same group of people,” he said Sunday.
“We found out that it was a sizeable, and very appreciative group of families,” Stallings said.
“Children who had never played an organized sport, taken an art class, learned an instrument, were suddenly able to learn the game of kings,” he said, referring to chess.
And, few kids in the SCV excelled at the game as did Sean.
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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