WEST ENGLEWOOD— Tamya Fultz, nicknamed the “Chess Queen of the South” by her coach, keeps collecting wins for Earle STEM Academy’s chess team.
The eighth-grade honor roll student said she’s excited about starting high school in the fall and plans to take home even “bigger” awards.
In December, she competed in the 2017 National K-12 grade Chess Tournament in Florida. She took home two first place trophies. And if that’s not enough, the Englewood resident won another trophy in the eighth grade division in the Chicago Chess Foundation Chess Tournament Jan. 13, said Joseph Ocol, the school’s math and chess teacher.
Tamya said it feels good to see her hard work pay off.
“It feels like I accomplished something in life and I did something,” she said.
She learned the game in sixth grade and caught on fast, said Ocol.
“She’s not just persistent; she’s also tenacious and has the grit to cope with all sorts of challenges,” he said.
Tamya’s a top performing student with perfect attendance in class, and for her before and after school math and chess activities with Ocol, he said. She received the highest NWEA score, landing in the 98 percentile, “the highest attained by any student at Earle.”
Last school year, Tamya made Earle’s history when she won first place in individual chess by achieving a perfect score with no losses in the Chicago Public Schools’ Academic Chess South Conference Playoffs. Ocol said it was the first time in the history of the school that a girl and seventh-grader won first place in a CPS chess tournament. She competed against eighth-graders too, he said.
A few weeks before that, Tamya won a bronze in the 2017 IESA State Chess Finals held in Peoria. Ocol said she was the only girl, the only African-American and only CPS student among the medal winners that year.
Tamya, who is also the team captain, has gotten so good that now the younger players try to play on her level, he said.
“Everyone wants to follow in the footsteps of Tamya,” Ocol said.
Her mother, Andrea Smith, said she’s also taught her daughter to remain humble and be respectful.
“I tell her by being captain she’s a bigger influence than the coach sometimes because peers look to each other,” Smith said. “I tell her she’s a leader now.”
Since joining the chess team, Tamya has done better in school, she’s more focused and she’s more outgoing, Smith said.
“She’s been doing very well, I’m proud of her,” Smith said. “Sometimes I think, ‘I made that, that’s my kid.’”
Ocol said that the chess team has become more popular and they hope to attract a corporate sponsor to help bring in additional funding so they can expand and utilize more resources.
The team has been doing exceptionally well, according to Ocol.
For example, in 2016 his all-girls chess team received a national championship trophy for an all-girls tournament held in Chicago. The win was the first national championship team trophy for the school.
Ocol said his students are dedicated and he looks forward to finishing out the school year strong.