A local woman is trying to rally the community behind the establishment of a unique outdoor chess park in the City of Mebane.
Last year, Nicole Grzyb, of Mebane, began organizing and laying plans for Mebane Chess Park, an outdoor park made up of 10 chess tables, two of which will be wheelchair accessible. Grzyb came up with the idea for the park to honor her deceased brother, Patrick Joseph Kelly.
Kelly, who died at 29-years-old in early July 2017, was also a Mebane resident and attended both the Mebane elementary schools, Woodlawn Middle School and Eastern Alamance High School. He always did well in school and excelled in baseball too – but his true hobby was chess.
“He was really, really good at it,” Grzyb said of her brother. “He went to the competitions and often won first place for his age group.”
In 2003, Kelly won first place in his age group at a tournament in Burlington. However, he’d often have to leave Mebane and Alamance County to even find people to play with, much less to play in tournaments. Most of the time, Grzyb said, he would have to go to Charlotte or Chapel Hill to even play.
“It was really hard for him to find people to play with around here, it was like he was pulling at straws,” she said. “So, I just thought that it would be a nice way to remember him as a community because I think if that would have been here for him, it would have helped him.”
Grzyb began planning and organizing the Mebane Chess Park project last October. Its progress has been documented on the park’s Facebook page.
The chess park will be a circle, with the 10 tables forming around it, with a rook, Kelly’s favorite piece, in the center as a memorial to him. Originally, Grzyb wanted to name the park PJK Memorial Chess Park, but was told the city doesn’t name parks after people so she altered the plans to still honor him.
She has met with Mebane Recreation and Parks director Aaron Davis several times and has reached out to each Mebane City Council Member and Mayor Ed Hooks individually. Grzyb also spoke before the city council at their February 1 meeting during the public comment period.
Grzyb told the Mebane Enterprise several council members were supportive of the idea.
Additionally, she has been in contact with various landscapers, chess table makers and artists in efforts to design the layout of the park.
For Grzyb, the chess park being built isn’t just about honoring her brother. She asserts the park will also bring countless benefits for Mebane and its residents – the young, the old and the in-between.
Benjamin Franklin, in a 1786 essay titled “The Morals of Chess,” outlined some of the benefits of the game, writing, “The game of chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions.”
Those very valuable qualities Franklin was referring to are foresight, circumspection and caution. Each of these are undoubtedly useful, not only in chess but in life as well.
Grzyb agrees, and believes the town would benefit, in more ways than one, from the presence of an attractive outdoor chess park.
“There's really not a park like it in North Carolina,” she said. “I think it could bring people here, too, and not only give our community and all our kids a chance to play, to form groups and their own chess clubs and competitions. It would, hopefully, bring people here to do that as well.”
Grzyb said the city council told her she needed to garner more community support before they could consider moving forward with and helping fund the project.
Recently, the City of Mebane secured funding for a Recreation and Parks Master Plan, Davis said, and in January 2022 there will be a public input meeting where folks can bring ideas forward about what amenities the city should offer in the future. Grzyb is trying to gain support for the park ahead of that meeting.
She has been sending out virtual flyers to everyone she knows, has been active on Facebook and is now trying to spread paper flyers around town. She has also reached out to local banks and schools, some of which have allowed her to put flyers up.
Things are slowing down now, as gaining support for the Mebane Chess Park has become Grzyb’s main focus. “I'm just constantly trying to find ways to push the word out any way I can,” she said.