|Her skills and presence can be intimidating to her opponents. Take her opening round match at a tournament in Indianapolis, for example.
“I won in four moves, and he started crying,” Tamya said, smiling sheepishly.
In Illinois’ 2017 state chess tournament, she was the only girl among 25 finalists. She was also the only African-American. And the only Chicago Public Schools student.
Tamya has emerged as the undisputed leader of the team created by Earle math teacher Joe Ocol.
“You should see the kindergarten and first-graders coming in wanting to learn chess,” Joe said. “They want to be like Tamya. Tamya is their model.”
Her legacy is only growing. Earlier this year the Earle team brought back three trophies from the U.S. Chess Federation SuperNationals tournament in Nashville, the largest chess tournament in history.
Taahir Levi, Joe’s youngest player, took home first place in blitz in his division. (Blitz is a chess strategy game that requires a player to beat his or her opponent in less than five minutes.) Tamya won an individual trophy for her high placement, as did the team as a whole. In their division the Earle players were the only Illinois team with a top 25 finish.
So much does Joe believe in the South Side squad that while financially stressed himself, he’s been paying thousands of dollars out of pocket to finance the team’s travel and tournament expenses.
“There is a lot of talent in Englewood,” Joe said. “They just need an opportunity to shine.”