The development of scholastic and community chess in the City of Sunrise has been driven by Mayor Mike Ryan with the unanimous and unflinching support of his fellow City Commissioners and city staff. As a parent and a former PTA president, Mayor Ryan understood that introducing the game’s advantages to the community posed an amazing opportunity, particularly in the classroom. However, the separately elected Broward County School Board is responsible for the education of children and dictates budgetary priorities and academic curriculum. Therefore, Mayor Ryan took a cooperative and grassroots approach.

In 2011, Mayor Ryan issued the Sunrise Chess Challenge encouraging the establishment of an after-school chess club at each of the 11 public schools located within the city limits. That same year, he purchased and donated 220 chess sets, enough to equip each school’s club. The idea was to support the clubs that existed and to challenge those schools that did not have a chess club to start a club.

Since initiating this Challenge, Mayor Ryan has worked tirelessly to expand the City’s chess programming and to expose the maximum number of students, families and seniors to the game. These efforts include the following: 

Working in partnership with Greater Sunrise Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Ryan has initiated links between public schools and mentors/supporters in the local business community. (2011-present)

Sunrise restaurants host mealtime chess play that encourages family participation and conversation. (2011-present)

This annual student tournament sparked friendly competition between Sunrise students in elementary, middle and high school, and was recently expanded to welcome young players from outside the City. (2012- present)

The Sunrise City Commission issued a “Sunrise Chess Day” proclamation on October 12, 2013, in support of the game’s benefits and the City’s many chess initiatives. The proclamation was presented in the company of school chess club members, principals, and representatives from chess associations. (2013)

Each Saturday morning, chess players of all ages and skill levels gather at the Sunrise Civic Center for free, supervised open play. These sessions regularly attract up to 40 players, including newcomers eager to learn the game. (2013-present)

 Mayor Ryan organized a free screening of “Brooklyn Castle,” an award-winning documentary that tells the inspiring stories of five members of the chess team at I.S. 318, a below-the-poverty-line inner city junior high school that has won more national championships than any other in the country. Special guests at the screening included the film’s executive producer, Robert McLellan, now director of development for the National Scholastic Chess Foundation, and Kat Cirar, director of program development for the America’s Foundation for Chess “First Move” program. (2013)

Chess may seem like an exercise in strategy, but creativity is also at play. The City asked students in elementary and middle school to illustrate their love for the game of chess, and then showcased the top drawings in full-color calendars for 2014, 2015 and now 2016. Winning artists and their teachers received chess sets, and the free calendars were distributed through schools, businesses and City facilities. (2013-present)

In addition to being a Chess City, Sunrise is home to the Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League. To unite the games’ seemingly diverse fan bases, Mayor Ryan helped organize a free “Pucks and Pawns” event at the BB&T Center, the Panthers’ arena. Attendees of all ages had an opportunity to meet and learn from Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, four-time U.S. champion and one of the top-ranked chess players in the world. Since that event, GM Nakamura moved to Sunrise, Florida and has become an advocate for the City’s many efforts to grow scholastic chess.

Students from two Sunrise public schools, Sawgrass Elementary and Sandpiper Elementary, played in friendly matches as part of the London Chess Classic, a major international chess tournament held in London, UK. The transatlantic chess games, which were held via Skype, generated tremendous excitement among the students. Competing in the Classic was Grandmaster Nakamura, and students were able to see GM Nakamura competing live. (2014)

Through a grant from America’s Foundation for Chess (AF4C) and with gap funding from the Sunrise Police Department, the City was able to launch the AF4C’s “First Move” pilot program in three of its eight elementary schools during the 2013-2014 academic year. Thanks to the pilot program – and for the first time in Broward County – 40 second and third grade classrooms received chess instruction as part of the curriculum.

The Sunrise “First Move” pilot received overwhelming support from students, parents, teachers, and administrators alike. Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie – who was involved in scholastic chess programs while at his former post in Chicago – was similarly impressed. The City of Sunrise City Commission passed a resolution advocating for the expansion of the “First Move” program countywide, which led to a similar resolution from the Broward League of Cities. As a result of broad community support, the following school year (2014-2015) “First Move” was introduced as part of the classroom curriculum in all second and third grade Broward County Public Schools classrooms – 1,800 classrooms involving over 30,000 students.

The “First Move” program was focused on providing chess education to second and third grade students; however, students from other grades were requesting chess instruction and engagement. In order to expand its network of official and unofficial instructors, Mayor Ryan invited the National Scholastic Chess Foundation (NSCF) to come to Broward County with the goal of conducting training seminars for teachers, principals, mentors, volunteers, park and recreational staff, elected officials, parents, law enforcement and children’s service providers. 

In cooperation with the Broward Education Foundation, the City funded and hosted the first NSCF “Demystifying Chess: A Thinking Skills Workshop for Teachers, Mentors and Parent Volunteers.” This in-depth, two-part teacher training program gave participants the tools they needed to deliver 20 weeks of chess instruction, and was designed to bring even novice players up to teaching speed. Multiple sessions have been now been conducted and over 390 teachers and other community members have been trained by world class chess instructors throughout Broward County. (2014-present)

This friendly competition, open to elected officials and constituents from across Broward County, is designed to draw attention to the benefits of chess in an academic environment and in the community. Mayor Ryan hosted the inaugural Challenge at Sunrise City Hall in June 2014, with the idea that each Mayors’ Chess Challenge would be hosted by a different municipality. Since the first 2014 event, the Challenges have been now hosted by over 15 other municipalities (2014-present)

Mayor Ryan, accumulating the experiences of the City of Sunrise, developed a template for other municipalities in Broward County so that they could take the initiatives developed or implemented by the City of Sunrise and initiate their own programs. Since then, several large municipalities have implemented chess programs, including the free “open play,” for their residents. (2014-present)

In November, 2016, the City Commission provided initial funding to establish a “Center” which will strengthen and build upon all the successes to date. Sunrise will continue to lead and to distinguish itself by serving as a central clearinghouse for best practices in chess instruction, developing new and assisting existing programs, creating events, offering training across the city and promoting Sunrise to the broader world as a CENTER OF EXCELLENCE. The Center will also offer services that will continue to see Sunrise as the epicenter for community-wide scholastic chess in the United States.

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