The story of a national chess champion from Baltimore was cause for celebration—with a front-page story in The Sun, with a ceremony hosted by Mayor Catherine Pugh at City Hall, and with a visit to the Orioles clubhouse where the seventh-grader took down Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and first base coach Wayne Kirby.
The only problem, according to a new report in Deadspin, is the boy is not a national chess champion.
As writer Dave McKenna reports, the student at Roland Park Elementary/Middle—McKenna goes to great lengths not to name him, a courtesy we'll also extend, though it's no doubt easily found in Baltimore media—played at SuperNationals and won a lower-level event.
"None of the kids who played in the under-1000 could compete in the Championship section," Francisco Guadalupe, director of events for the United States Chess Federation, told McKenna. "It would not be competitive for them to play in that section."
"The kid didn't do anything wrong," Guadalupe said, "but he's not a national champion. To say that is incorrect."
But the story soon went viral, and it was too good not to share—even for some in the chess world, who made no effort to correct it.
Sun metro editor Eileen Canzian defended the cover story when reached by McKenna.
"The heart of the story is that a little boy in a barbershop learned how to play and stay off the streets and is doing well," she said. "That's the essence of the story. Are you saying that’s not right?"
As of this writing, the headline still declares: "Tested in a barbershop, 7th-grader becomes Baltimore's first-ever national chess champion."
As always with McKenna's writing, the full account has way more detail and shoe-leather reporting. Read it here.
UPDATE: Luke Broadwater, the author of The Sun's cover story, said that, contrary to McKenna's report, he sent a response. Here it is in full:
1) The Baltimore City Kids Chess League contacted us seeking coverage of their performance at the SuperNationals. The headline of the email from the league commissioner Steve Alpern was: “The Baltimore Kids Chess League has a 2017 USCF National Chess Champion." The email continues: "Cahree Myrick, a 7th grader at Roland Park had a perfect 7-0 score to win a national chess championship in Nashville today. There were 249 players from 28 states in his K-8 u1000 section. Cahree started playing chess in elementary school in another BKCL program at the Green School. BKCL has produced three national team championships but Cahree is the first BKCL player ever to win an individual USCF national champion." This was the basis for the story. A local kid had done well at a national tournament in an effort that was the first time a Baltimore youth player had done that.
2) Cahree won a huge first place trophy at the event. The dictionary defines “champion” as “a winner of first prize or first place in competition.” According to people who there, at the tournament itself they referred to him as one of the champions at the event.
3) My story was clear (I think in three references) that he won his division at the nationals. We even added in explicit language to that effect. I believe we were the only media outlet to cover the story that included any mitigating language about the nature of the championship. We also were not even the first or second media outlets to cover the story. We certainly didn’t break the story or start the wheels of celebration in Baltimore in motion.
4) The idea of there being several national champions at different levels of a sport is not really a crazy notion. In fact, that’s a pretty typical practice across sports. Think of NCAA DI, DII, DIII, NJCAA and NAIA national champions in college. All can rightfully call themselves national champions, even though few of the lower division champions could compete with the DI athletes. This is even more pronounced in youth sports, where there are national championships all year long all over the country at varying skill levels. For instance, in wrestling, a sport I coach, we have eastern national champions, Fargo national champions, National Preps champions, NHSCA national champions, Cadet national champions, open national champs, etc.
5) My story was not narrowly about Cahree winning this tournament, but also how the city was reacting, rallying around a public school student who had excelled in a game Baltimore isn’t really known for. The mayor, the Orioles, people in the schools, etc., had all scheduled celebratory events with Cahree prior to me ever writing a word.
6) I believe you understate Cahree’s rank. I think he’s risen from about a 700 to nearly a 1,300 in about a year. But I need to double-check that.
7) Finally, I understand what the chess purists nationally are saying: Basically, he isn't that good. But I think Baltimoreans are well within their rights to celebrate the Baltimore Kids Chess League's first individual national championship in chess – and Charee's 7-0 performance at nationals -- even if it wasn't in the highest division.
UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: It is worth clarifying that Broadwater didn't respond to McKenna until after McKenna's story was published. That said, to not update a story that claims Broadwater didn't respond is a strange choice—it's common to update a story when someone who previously didn't respond does respond. You can also read a very tedious Twitter flare-up about Broadwater's story and updates here.