'Brooklyn Castle': Boy Fights Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) With Game of Chess


Frustration at the Chess Junior High Nationals

At the Junior High Nationals in Minneapolis in April 2010, Patrick loses every round with a total score of zero and is angry and disheartened.

"Whenever people say there is a lesson in losing, personally, I think that's a lot of bulls---," Patrick says in the film. "You are trying as hard as you can.

But Pobo encourages him to do well to boost the ranking of the team. Patrick eventually wins a round and beams, "Wow, finally."

"We were right there with him to win a game or go home with all zeros," the director said.

The film also introduces the players' parents, who are an inspiration to those who think inner-city schools lack support and talent.

Some worked two or three jobs a day, but still attended night meetings called to solve the budget crisis.

But it is also the game of chess that fills the gaps in these students' lives and gives them tools that last a lifetime.

"Chess teaches good habits of mind," coach Spiegel told ABCNews.com. "One of the things kids are bad at is double-checking themselves. They are not used to being careful. Chess is unusual and coming back is very hard."

In a game of tennis, the player who misses the ball can catch up from behind, but in chess, "one careless move and you can lose everything," she said. "It really teaches concentration.

"Kids get bored so quickly or the mind hops around. But in chess, there is so much to think about and so many possible moves to consider."

Sometimes, an English paper can seem "very abstract," Spiegel said, but in chess, "if you sit there and think hard enough, you can win. You get the emotional pay back right away."

Today, some of the better players at I.S. 318 have graduated, but both Pobo and Alexis are paid to tutor the up-and-coming chess champs.

The budget has hit them hard, too. "The school used to have a lot more money to pay for trips," Spiegel said. "This year, because of the film, we raised what we needed. But it becomes a situation where each year we start from zero. I sense it's going to be increasingly hard."

I.S. 318 was also struck a tough blow when Principal Rubino died of a massive heart attack at age 57.

As the "heart and positive presence" of the school, he championed the power of after-school programs to transform student lives.

"The chess program may be the one reason a kid wants to go to school," Dellamaggiore said. "You can't take that away from education and then ask why public education is failing."

As for Patrick, now 14, he has blossomed in the three years since "Brooklyn Castle" was filmed. His former chess coach said he is "more confident, no longer the terrified little kid."

His family moved to Neptune, N.J., last year where he is involved in lacrosse, surfing and ROTC. Soon, he will join a new chess club.

"It really has helped me," he told ABCNews.com. "Whenever I play chess, I always have to concentrate, even if it's hard.

"It teaches you that whenever you have trouble with something, you have to calm down, take your time and slow down. Concentrate more deeply, then try again. I use it in school all the time."

As a direct result of the mentoring by Pobo, Patrick's ranking jumped nearly 800 points from dead last on the team to the middle.

"He was my big brother. He was there for me, not matter what," he said. "We became best friends."

Patrick remains ever grateful for the way chess and his supportive teammates at I.S. 318 turned his disability into a strength.

"I really miss them," he said wistfully. "It was a really special place and everyone who has gone there will agree with me. I am in touch with all of them."

"Brooklyn Castle," which was featured on the front page of The New York Times and "The Daily Show," has made rock stars of all five of the players.

"My opinion of the film changes all the time," said Patrick, who has been photographed with actor Jon Hamm. "And it's always good."

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