Friday, February 22, 2008

Flashback: May 5, 2000


Rodelay Medina, varsity kicker on the Miami Jackson High School football team, has become the country's top scholastic chess player.
It's the second year in a row the school has produced the national champion in the United States Chess Federation tournament. This year, 1,395 players from 185 schools competed in North Carolina April 28-30. Jackson's six-man team finished fourth. In 1999, senior Marcel Martinez captured the title.
Medina, 18, learned chess at age 6 from an older friend in Cuba. He came to South Florida in 1995 after his mother, manicurist Lazara Gonzalez, won an immigration lottery. They live in Little Havana.
Medina said he knew three English words when he arrived: pencil, teacher and table.
He enrolled at Miami High School, where his sister, Yamara, 16, still attends classes. Medina switched to Jackson, where chess team coach Mario Martinez has built a respected academic and competitive chess program.
In chess, said Medina, ``you can plan your future; it depends on you. Just like life.''
He also said that chess has dramatically improved his math skills.
Mario Martinez called Medina ``a real dedicated player and true student of the game. He loves competing and doesn't like to lose, but he also likes to teach and share what he's learned and work with the guys'' on the team.
During the tournament, Medina played 28 hours of chess in three days. The final game, which took 3 hours, 50 minutes, left him exhausted.
But he said he knew from the beginning that he would win; his opponent ``made a few mistakes in his opening.''
Medina gives private chess lessons, and recently started teaching the game to youths ages 7 to 17 for the Miami Parks and Recreation Department.
His supervisor, Barbara Wade, calls him the best thing that ever happened to the department. She coordinates the Youth at Risk program for the Miami Love Project.
``We promote leadership with neighborhood role models,'' said Wade, who praised Medina's patience and respectful manner.
Through the summer, Medina will teach chess at nine parks in the city system: 35 kids per park, Wade said.
``He believes he can teach anyone, and that's a great strength to me,'' she said.
Medina is hoping for a college scholarship for the fall. ``I'm waiting for a school where I can play both: football and chess,'' he

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