August 23, 2007

Chess, Scrabble and Crosswords result in $190,000 in Scholarships This Summer

Posted in Misc at 8:03 AM by Joe From Boston

Here’s an unusual story that I had to share with you all.  You can read the full article at the Courier Post Online.  I’ll leave it to the author to explain.  🙂

Mind games program pays off with financial aid for college

Courier-Post Staff

STRATFORDPlaying games has paid off for 25 South Jersey students beginning their freshman or sophomore year at college, courtesy of the Fifth Annual Penn Jersey Youth Mind Games program.

The Stratford-based program paid out nearly $190,000 in scholarships to students who competed in chess and Scrabble tournaments and also filled out crossword puzzles.

The more the students played, the more they earned — with the top award of $13,200 distributed to six students who played at least five days a week, several hours a day, from the program’s start on Memorial Day weekend to its final weekend in early August.

The commitment of students who were new to the unique scholarship program impressed Donald Rentschler. The 66-year-old Stratford resident founded Penn Jersey Youth in 1982 as a way of giving college scholarship money to students who might not qualify for athletic awards.

“We’re going to be awarding more this year than originally planned,” said Rentschler, who had anticipated awarding a total of about $150,000 — at least 10 percent of Penn Jersey Youth’s nearly $1.5 million portfolio.

Everyone wins something for each hour of play, with an average of $200 per hour. The program is held at Stratford Borough Hall and the nearby senior center.

“This year’s student crop was above the average. The first-timers did much better than our returnees, who tended to get impatient and didn’t all finish the program,” Rentschler said.

Returnees from last summer could add to their earlier winnings, provided they recruited a high school senior and both played in all three games.

Among them were Mark Stratton of Stratford, who accumulated $4,650 toward his sophomore year at Drew University in Chatham after winning more than $5,000 last summer, and Vince Baldino of Somerdale, who earned $6,400 this year to help with Temple University expenses, just under the $7,000 he won last summer.

Naomi Kaplan of Voorhees earned $13,200 to help defray the costs at the University of Pennsylvania — just under $50,000 per year.

“I’m not an athlete and not artistic, so this was a good opportunity for me,” said the Eastern High School June graduate who played games three hours a day, five or six days a week.

“At first I was skeptical. I didn’t understand how it could possibly work. But I really improved in chess. And although I’ve played Scrabble with my family regularly, it was an opportunity to play with kids my own age,” Kaplan said.

Henry Chao, a June graduate of Cherry Hill High School East, said his $13,200 will pay a large chunk of the tuition, room and board at Rutgers-New Brunswick, with its annual $21,000 price tag.

“In the beginning, I went only about once a week. But eventually, I would go three or four times each week. I played all three games and met a lot of interesting people,” Chao said.

“It definitely was a very unusual way of earning $200 an hour,” he added.

Kaplan and Chao said they might return next summer.

The scholarship program has undergone several transformations since Rentschler, a computer industry retiree, began investing Penn Jersey’s money in mutual funds and stocks.

Some years, the scholarships were based on chess play entirely, other years community service was emphasized, and at times financial need and academic merit were essential. The Mind Games Scholarships were born in 2003 when chess, Scrabble and crosswords became the only basis for the awards.

Games are timed — 40 minutes for crosswords, 50 minutes for Scrabble, and an 80-minute maximum for chess — and students must play at least two of the games offered. Experience isn’t necessary; Rentschler offers free chess and crossword clinics.

Rentschler has evolved a complex handicapping system whereby points are awarded based on a history of winning or losing at chess or Scrabble. Points scored in chess and Scrabble, as well as how many squares are left blank in crosswords, also figure into the calculations.

The program is open to students from the tri-county area and beyond. Besides being paid for the hours they play, students are paid travel expenses of $40 per hour based on driving time — even if they take the Hi-Speedline, which stops within walking distance of the game sites.

This summer, the scholarship fund is paying out approximately $75,000 for chess, $60,000 for Scrabble, and $48,000 for crosswords, plus $6,000 for mileage.

Rentschler is already looking ahead to next year.

“We expect to award an average of $7,500 to high school Class of 2008 students. We’ll start up again next Memorial Day weekend,” he said of the program.


  1. Am a very good scrabble player. Have represented my state and my school in different places in Nigeria. And I wish to further outside the country. I will be very greatful if my request is being granted. Thank you

  2. Muneerah said,

    Can students residing in canada also play?

  3. me and my brothers would always love to play scrabble every weekend, ..

  4. maria said,

    Rest in peace Donald!

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