Building a Bridge for Students

Cris Collinsworth presenting Phiona Mutesi and Robert Katende with the Shining Knight Award.

Photography provided by Proscan

The Cris Collinsworth ProScan Fund (CCPF) welcomed Phiona Mutesi and Robert Katende to Cincinnati, OH to celebrate the game of chess.  They received the Shining Knight Award which recognizes individuals who have a passion for improving the lives of others and being positive role models to the children they serve. Mutesi and Katende traveled more than 7,000 miles from Uganda to attend this year’s 15th Anniversary of the Queen City Classic Chess Tournament on March 10th and 11th! Before the main event, Mutesi and Katende kicked off the weekend visiting CCPF’s Chess in Schools Program at Rees E. Price Academy. 

Who are they? Mutesi is 19 years old and was raised in the slums of Kampala, Uganda. Her father died of AIDS when she was three. Her mother could not afford school fees and Mutesi spent her days living on the streets hungry and selling corn to survive.

When she was nine, her brother told her about a program that provided a free meal to students who learned chess. Mutesi asked her mother if she could attend, but her mother would not permit it. It was a three-mile walk to reach the school.

One day, Mutesi’s hunger drove her to defy her mother’s wishes. She began her journey toward the Sports Outreach Institute, where she quickly learned the game of chess from coach Robert Katende.  This was the beginning of her journey to becoming a chess prodigy and even more importantly, becoming a role model for any child who is enduring struggles and looking for a path to overcome them. 

Even though Mutesi’s initial motivation was the pain of hunger, she was able to concentrate and learn chess once she was nourished. She was a fast learner and quickly developed a rare talent and true love of the game. It wasn’t long before she was Uganda’s National Women’s Junior Champion and competing internationally. 

Katende had been a missionary and a refugee of Uganda’s civil war. With the help of Sports Outreach, he began a chess program in the town of Katwe to teach children life lessons that can be learned through chess: critical reasoning, patience, forethought and sportsmanship. 

“He teaches me about chess and God,” Mutesi says of Katende. “God has given me a gift of playing chess. Whether I come back with a trophy or not does not matter.” 

The days of anonymity for Mutesi and Katende are numbered. Author Tim Crothers wrote Queen of Katwe, a book that tells Mutesi’s life story. Queen of Katwe will be released later this year as a Disney film starring Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo.

After hearing the story firsthand, the students at Rees E. Price are very excited to see the Disney film this fall. The students asked Mutesi and Katende such questions as, “Do you have refrigerators in your home?” and, “What are the names of some of your friends?” 

One student bravely asked Katende, “Is she (Mutesi) better than you?” His response, honest and humble, “Currently, yes she is.” 

Another student asked Mutesi if she has ever lost. She explained that losing is not a bad thing. When you lose, you learn something new from your opponent. Mutesi told the students not to cry if they lose, but to learn from their mistakes so they can do better in their next game.

The rising enthusiasm for chess at this elementary school is only a microcosm for what is happening throughout Greater Cincinnati. CCPF’s Chess in Schools Program, founded in 2012, is currently teaching in 25 local schools for 50 hours per week to more than 1,200 students.  The program is growing every year.

As Katende knows well, students learn much more from chess than how the pieces move. They are instilled with core values that will help them in life. That is truly what makes this program a victory for all.

Cris Collinsworth ProScan Fund is located at 5400 Kennedy Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45213. You can reach them at 1.866.PSCHESS (772.4377) or visit their website at