Three girls made history on Saturday, April 9. Ylisia Crawford, Whitney Taylor Hughes and Nia Thomas are the first team of Toledo Public School kids to win the Ohio All Girls Chess Tournament, with two of the girls also placing 1st and 2nd in their category.
The trio of young, Jones Leadership Academy teens are also the first ever Afro-American girls’ chess team to bring home this competition’s title.
Before the tournament, one of the coaches, Warren Woodberry just “asked them to play their best game because they were playing girls with a better and higher rating than them,” he says. “After Ylisia had three wins and no losses and Taylor had three wins and no losses, the possibility set in that at least we might get 2nd place.”
With Ylisia and Taylor both securing victories throughout the tournament, the teammates had to play each other, which earned their 1st- and 2nd-place titles.
The Lady Mustangs are currently non-rated— meaning that the girls have played in fewer than 10 rated U.S. Chess Federation games— but Woodberry said the girls “dominated this division and with more competition they will move up in ranking.”
Their team, the Lady Mustangs, is fairly new to chess and the players had no prior knowledge of the game before training with their three coaches. With vigorous training, two hours after school everyday, the team’s intense focus and combined effort led them to victory.
During the tournament, Crawford, 14, with three years experience, was undefeated and picked up the 1st-place win. Co-captain, Hughes, 15, has been with the team for one year, and earned 2nd-place. Finally, Thomas, 13, is the team’s newest member, joined only seven months ago.
According to Woodberry, the team’s practice sessions are silly and intense. Woodberry says there’s often a lots of laughter and telling the girls to get off of Facebook. The girls also benefit from team mentoring, homework assistance and friendship during these sessions. This holistic approach is part of their goal to teach lifestyle choices, “since chess is like life,” said says.
As a group, the chess team trio has been to the Detroit Afro-American Museum, shows at the Valentine and Stranahan theaters, and classes at the Toledo Museum of art. The club gives food donations to Family House and reads to Headstart children in the school.
“Our girls have appeared on Doni Miller's Bridges, show where she promoted the term Girl Power, which is now their mantra,” Woodberry said. “We participate as family, and not just as a chess team.”