The game of chess is changing lives in rural Mississippi one match at a time. Franklin County has a population of 7,000 and hosts only one elementary school. With the arrival of Dr. Jeff Bulington, Franklin County chess students are now dreaming of brighter futures.
Jeff Bulington: Changing Lives Through Chess
Bulington came to Mississippi from Memphis where he had previously coached students. These were not just any students; these kids were from one of the most distressed zip codes in Tennessee. A wealthy, anonymous benefactor approached Bulington in hope that he could work the same miracle with rural kids as he had with city kids in Memphis.
Franklin County had 93 graduating seniors last year, but only seven went on to a four-year college. With the arrival of Bulington, children are now dreaming bigger than ever before about their futures.
Mitch Ham, a parent of a chess student, stated:
You always want to see your kids go further. And I think chess can be a vehicle to take ‘em there, you know? This gives them a window at a young age, that, ‘Hey, there’s a whole world out there. I don’t need to set my goals at making $8 an hour, I need to set my goals at whatever I want ‘em to be.’
Rebekah Griffin, a Franklin County student, said:
I feel like chess could take us anywhere. But it’s not about where it takes us, it’s about how far it takes us.
Beyond gaining confidence, soaring reading levels and overall improvement in grades, in the year and a half Bulington has been in Franklin County, the chess students have made great competitive strides. The week before Christmas, 33 children traveled to Nashville, TN, for the national chess championships. The competition hosted 1500 players, from 644 schools, Kindergarten through 12th grade. After a grueling three-day competition, the fifth grade team finished 8th. Additionally, the 6th grade team placed 10th overall. This is HUGE! Two grades from rural Mississippi finishing in the nation’s top ten!
Bobby Poole, who is a part-time preacher and a full-time assistant chess coach for Bulington, admitted he had his doubts about successfully teaching Franklin County’s kids the game of chess.
All the statistics, everything you look at, Mississippi is the poorest. It’s the dumbest. It’s the fattest. We know that the rest of the nation has that conception of us.
Parker Wilkinson, a student responded:
We showed ‘em different…
The Future of Franklin County Chess
The anonymous benefactor has offered Bulington a 10-year contract for Franklin County, which was gladly accepted. A new chess center has opened up and offers students instruction beyond the traditional classroom. It truly has become a heart center for the county. Bulington genuinely believes that chess is helping these kids dream beyond their county line and is giving them the confidence and skills necessary to make their futures bigger and brighter.
…this flower hasn’t bloomed yet. It’s just starting to, right? There’s a lot yet to come.
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