The Fort Mill Police Department hosted a chess exhibition and, along with a special guest, hoped to work some magic to raise money for a good cause.
As participants lined the tables in the Spratt Building in downtown Fort Mill ready to test their game logic May 30, they soon found out it was not each other they would be competing against. Instead, they would take on "The Chess Wizard," aka Scott gru-Bell, local chess expert, author and TV host.
Competing against all challengers simultaneously throughout the afternoon, gru-Bell helped the police department, in conjunction with other local law enforcement agencies, raise money for the South Carolina Special Olympics.
"We wanted to do something different...to try and come up with something for everyone," said Sgt. Paula Neely, an officer with the Fort Mill Police Department and organizer of the event. "I ran into Mr. gru-Bell and he offered to assist us. We're hoping to make this an annual event."
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The police department is an active contributor to the S.C. Special Olympics, Neely said, typically raising money through athletic events such as the annual torch run, wintertime polar plunges and softball tournaments.
But chess was a new area to explore for many of the officers.
Carson Neely, a detective with the York County Sheriff's Office and first-time chess player, said he had a fun time playing the game - even though he admits he still has a little work to do before he could defeat the Wizard.
"He's good. But the great thing is that he is improving our skills and spreading the game to new people," Neely said.
Lt. Ray Dixon of the Fort Mill Police Department played the strongest match of all the competitors challenging gru-Bell.
"The fact that I lasted this long at least means I'm competent," Dixon said with a smirk during his match. "Today is an example of how we in law enforcement can give back and have a lot of fun at the same time."
It wasn't only police officers getting in on the competition.
Grace Davis, a second-grade student at Springfield Elementary, showed up to challenge the Wizard.
Davis said she has been playing chess for six weeks and really enjoys the game.
"It's fun and it helps your brain work a little more," Davis said. "I've found some other kids who know how to play, too."
gru-Bell, who has defeated as many as 24 players simultaneously during his 10-year playing career, spends time during each competition imparting bits of his strategies to other players.
"My theory on chess is that it's not a competition, it's looking at the position of the pieces and unraveling the best move," gru-Bell said. "You don't play the opponent, you play the board. It's like a series of puzzles and it's all about finding the best solution. That's true in life, too."
In addition to playing at various charity events, gru-Bell has written chess strategy books, including "Christian Chess" and "Early Maxims and Aphorisms," and hosts the TV program "The Wizard of Chess" on Charlotte cable access channel 21.
The next law enforcement event raising money for the Special Olympics is the public agency softball tournament, featuring law enforcement officers from around York County, Saturday, June 6, at the Leroy Springs Recreation Complex.
The S.C. Special Olympics includes tournaments and competitions throughout the year as well national and international events.
Currently, more than 15,500 children and adults take part in events across the state.