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Chess helping improve academic skills, share Gospel with school children


HAZARD—Pastor Daryl Cornett and First Baptist Church of Hazard recently started a very rare—if not one-of-a-kind—outreach ministry to school children at least among Kentucky Baptists and perhaps among Southern Baptists.

Sometime before the summer of 2017, Pastor Cornett watched a television news program that featured a chess master who was leading a chess program in an inner-city school, and found that the game helped develop children academically and socially as well as improved their problemsolving skills. The teacher had seen similar positive results even in a impoverished, rural community.

A ministry idea was born. "As far as I knew, our city schools in Hazard had nothing like that," Cornett said.

Children participate in an after-school chess club that meets on Wednesdays at First Baptist Church of Hazard.

He just needed someone who could teach the kids—and him—how to play the game better. "I knew a little bit … how the pieces move, and what the point of the game was," Cornett said. "But there's a whole lot more strategy to play it well."

His son, Justin, now a senior at the University of Kentucky, knew how to play chess and enthusiastically agreed to teach him and help coach a club at First Baptist last summer.

One doesn't necessarily have to be a chess master, though, to begin a chess club. "You just need to know the game," Cornett said.

 "I'm certainly no master," he added, "but I can play and teach them the basics."

"We have no chess masters in our church," Cornett chuckled. "If I do, they haven't shown themselves yet.

"Basically, we just take the kids—most of them have no idea how to play, but they are curious—and we begin to teach them at their own levels," he explained.

 The group spends a portion of their time learning the rules and playing games together. Then, they stop and have a devotion and Gospel presentation.

"Usually we are memorizing some scripture, and we'll put it up on the wall," he added.
"We have it all kind of mixed together, and the kids really enjoy it."

The chess club is mainly attracting elementary-age children, but some middle schoolers attend. During the past year, a little more than 20 have attended the club, which meets on Wednesdays after school. The first week of school this August, seven attended, but Cornett expects the group will grow again as word gets out about the club.

Volunteers help supervise and even sometimes pick up kids from school, if working parents are unable to bring them. Church member Mark Stewart has been a faithful volunteer, Cornett noted, adding, "I couldn't do it without his weekly help."

Even though the chess club is still a fledgling ministry, First Church is already seeing early fruits.

Some of the children are beginning to feel like "First Baptist is my church, even though they only come to chess club," Cornett said. "We're working on getting them involved in other programs at the church. Without the chess club, we would have never made a connection with them probably, because we wouldn't have known them since they're not part of our church family.

"Every week we're getting elements of the gospel and scripture into their lives, as well as making the church space a very positive space for them," he said. "I think that's a pretty good win." (WR)

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