Instructors

  • Meet the Kid Chess Team

  • We are a child centered program with highly qualified and experienced chess coaches. Our unique staffing approach utilizes the talents of both tournament chess players and educators.

  • Each of our coaches pass in-depth background checks and are trained to make chess fun! Meet the Kid Chess® team below.

    • Justin Morrison
      Founder

      Justin Morrison

      Founder

      Justin is the founder and owner of Kid Chess. He started playing chess in high school and has over four decades of experience. He was the 3-time Georgia High School Champion from 1976 through 1978, High School Champion of Southeastern United States in 1976, and Georgia Junior Champion in 1978. He is a current USCF-rated Expert, a certified USCF tournament director beginning in 1977, and has taught chess since 1976.

       

    • Kristi Morrison
      Co-Founder

      Kristi Morrison

      Co-Founder

      Kristi received an Elementary Education Certification from Kennesaw State College after graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in Psychology. Before working for Kid Chess, Kristi taught 1st and 2nd grades for 10 years in Fulton County, Georgia. Kristi first learned how to play chess in a chess class taught at her elementary school in Michigan. Kristi loves being a part of the Kid Chess team because it allows her to continue to teach. Kristi is a co-owner of Kid Chess with her husband, Kid Chess founder Justin Morrison. Kristi and Justin have a son and she has spent the last several years raising him. Kristi enjoys spending time with her family, practicing yoga, exercising, and reading.

    • Ratana Landry
      Instructor / Coach

      Ratana Landry

      Instructor / Coach

      (Shown here on the right) Ratana joined the Kid Chess team as Director of Operations in June of 2004. Ratana has been a casual chess player since her college days, and “hopes some of the chess talent currently surrounding her rubs off”. She is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. She has an extensive background in Private Investigations having owned her own business in Louisiana. Ratana met our founder Justin Morrison when she first moved to Georgia in 1995 and has had the pleasure to work with him at various times over the last 20 years. When not engaged in the many facets of managing the Kid Chess operations, Ratana is likely out riding her Harley Davidson (fondly known as “Doux”) or enjoying the outdoors camping with family, friends, and her “four-legged” kids Nick, Chloe, and Chee Chee (the infamous Chocolate Chihuahua and his two “feline” sisters).

    • Bella Belegradek
      Instructor / Coach

      Bella Belegradek

      Instructor / Coach

      Bella has been playing chess for almost thirty years. She was a seasoned tournament player in Russia, where she acquired the title of Woman Chess Master’s Candidate at age 16. She earned Master’s degrees in Math and Computer Science, the latter from the University of Maryland. She was the university’s chess champion in 1994-95 and was a member of their chess team when they won two Pan-American Intercollegiate Championships. Bella started teaching chess while in elementary school and joined Kid Chess in 2005. In her spare time she enjoys photography, traveling, hiking, knitting and knitwear design.

    • Ben Vinyard
      Instructor / Coach

      Ben Vinyard

      Instructor / Coach

      Ben has been a Kid Chess instructor since 2004. He learned to play as a child when his cousin taught him the basics of the game, and started playing seriously as an adult. He attended Southeast Missouri State University and majored in Communications. His occupational experience involves years working in the film and television industry, including a position as the studio producer for the Kansas City Royals, as well as freelance assignments with ESPN, CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC, CBS and Entertainment Tonight. Ben is a certified tournament director and, since joining Kid Chess, has become an active tournament player, at one point gaining 150 ratings points in the span of a single year. He has coached several Kid Chess teams that have qualified for the State Team Championship.

    • Gerald Stafford
      Vice President

      Gerald Stafford

      Vice President

      Gerald joined Kid Chess in 2006. He majored in elementary education, and has worked with children in different capacities including youth minister, activities director, camp director, physical education teacher, and sports coach. Gerald’s aspiration is to teach children life skills and values through fun and innovative games. A father of three daughters, he encourages all children as if they were his own. Gerald brings an exuberant amount of energy to every class and interacts with the children in a relatable way. He aspires to be a role model and to show caring and a positive character at all times.

    • Michael Farris
      Instructor / Coach

      Michael Farris

      Instructor / Coach

      Michael is originally from Park Forest, Illinois. He graduated from Morehouse College with a B.S. Psychology and is a certified English as a Second Language teacher. With over 15 years of teaching experience, Michael enjoys combining his love of teaching with his passion for chess. A casual player, he taught himself how to play at age 9 and continued to play on computers and at the Atlanta Chess Center. Michael believes that playing chess allows the mind a chance to relax, to explore ideas and share camaraderie with another mind, exploring the “truth” of a co-created story. In teaching chess, he enjoys seeing the excitement of building the understanding of the game and re-experiencing those discoveries. When not teaching chess, Michael’s hobbies include photography, poetry, and reading. A world traveler, he has taught students from more than 15 countries and one of his favorite experiences was flying over Cappadocia, Turkey in a hot-air balloon.

    • Wendy Rones
      Instructor / Coach

      Wendy Rones

      Instructor / Coach

      Wendy is originally from New Orleans, Louisiana. She attended Louisiana State University and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education. She taught first grade for twelve years and working with children has always been her passion. She lives in Marietta with her husband and three sons. Wendy enjoys hiking, theater, movies, travel and spending time with her family. She loves teaching chess and seeing her students grow and flourish from all of the wonderful benefits chess provides.

    • Akiva Blaut
      Instructor / Coach

      Akiva Blaut

      Instructor / Coach

      Following graduation from The Weber School, Akiva earned an associate degree in psychology from Georgia Perimeter College. He is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Georgia State University. His prior work experience includes being a teacher’s assistant, teaching a Microsoft Excel class, and tutoring students in math and science. Akiva’s family lives in Atlanta, Seattle, and he has two sisters who live in Israel. As a child, he was taught to play chess by his mother and plays weekly with the chess club at Georgia State. Akiva finds the game is not only a great mental exercise but also a terrific way to meet people and get to know them. Chess is only one of the many games he enjoys. Akiva also plays video games and many board other games, especially those that make you think. He also likes to draw and write.  

    • Al Horton
      Instructor / Coach

      Al Horton

      Instructor / Coach

      Chess came into Al’s life at a fairly young age; however, he did not take the game seriously until his science teacher asked him to play on the school chess team at Boys High School (now Boys and Girls High School) in Brooklyn, New York.  With his guidance and coaching, Al eventually lead the team as captain for two years.  Al joined the Kingsmen Chess Club and rose to junior champion in local tournaments.  He participated at both local and national levels including three World Open tournaments, and, as a member of the Armed Services Chess Team, he represented the Marine Corps during the Sea Services Chess Tournament. Al is currently rated as an “A”player and a member of the United States Chess Federation.   He has been a chess teacher for several years and enjoys sharing his experience with children of all ages.

    • Grandmaster Alonso Zapata
      Instructor / Coach

      Grandmaster Alonso Zapata

      Instructor / Coach

      Alonso is a Grand Master and FIDE Senior Trainer (currently one of only 52 people with that designation). He is a published chess author with extensive expertise as a presenter at conferences, lectures, and FIDE seminars. Alonso has trained many top players and was both the trainer and captain of several teams at Chess Olympiads. He obtained second place in the World Junior Chess Championship in Innsbruck, Austria in 1977 and has been ranked as one of the 50 best players worldwide numerous times since. He competed in several cycles for the World Chess Championship and competed 12 times at the World Chess Olympiad. He has been the Colombian National Champion 8 times.

    • Bill Grossman
      Instructor / Coach

      Bill Grossman

      Instructor / Coach

      Bill has been playing chess for over 50 years. He grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee and learned to play chess in the fourth grade. He was very active with the chess clubs in junior high and high school. After graduation, he volunteered for the U.S. Army and was an instructor at the U.S. Army Infantry School in Ft. Benning, GA before serving as an infantry squad leader with the First Calvary Division in Vietnam. After three combat decorations and an honorable discharge, Bill entered the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. During college he took a part time job teaching chess at a local community center where he could instill his love of the game to elementary age children. After graduating with a B. S. in Psychology, he married his college sweetheart and moved to Dunwoody in 1978. Later that year, Bill started a company which provided services to the Theatrical Film distribution industry. In 2006 he sold his business and became more active in the Dunwoody community, where he serves as a Planning Commissioner and sits on other city boards and committees. Bill loves teaching chess to children and firmly believes that the skills taught in chess contribute to the concentration and analytical skills the kids will need to be successful in school.

    • Bradley Brown
      Instructor / Coach

      Bradley Brown

      Instructor / Coach

      An Atlanta native, Brad earned an A.A. Degree in Liberal Arts from Young Harris College and a B.A. Degree in Journalism from The University of Georgia. He is a Certified Paralegal and a Certified Level 1 Bowling instructor. His prior work experience includes sales, public relations for a children’s theatre, retail and operation management. He is married and has both dogs and a cat. Brad is an avid supporter of Atlanta’s sports teams, loves cooking and spending with his wife and their canine and feline family. He enjoys working with children as they are enthusiastic and open to new ideas. Brad first learned chess from his father and has played on and off over the years, both with friends, relatives, and against computers. He plays at least a couple of games every day, mainly against various computer programs. He enjoys sharing a passion for the game, especially with those who are just beginning to learn chess. He is also constantly amazed at how much more he learns while teaching others.

    • Clay Johnson
      Instructor / Coach

      Clay Johnson

      Instructor / Coach

      Clay received a BS in Telecommunications and Theatre from Lee University and possesses a background in customer service, processing, and theater. He is originally from Greenbrier, Arkansas and his family still lives there. Clay started playing chess when he was eight and enjoys its puzzle and mental challenge. He enjoys teaching children how to play as he finds them imaginative and excited to learn. Clay is an actor and previously traveled the country doing sketch theatre for five years. In fact, he has been to every state except Alaska! Clay is also interested in directing, voice acting, and podcasting.

    • Connor Clifton
      Instructor / Coach

      Connor Clifton

      Instructor / Coach

      Connor first learned chess in the first grade as a part of the Kid Chess program. He taught his sister to play chess and has always enjoyed teaching the game to others. He is pursuing a degree from Kennesaw State University in Theatre and Performance Studies and is an aspiring film director and comic book writer.

    • Doug Cox
      Instructor / Coach

      Doug Cox

      Instructor / Coach

      Doug is a Georgia native; he moved to Atlanta in 1992 for college. He has a B.A. from Georgia State University, majoring in computer information systems. He has worked as a consultant as a lead developer, data architect and analyst for over twenty years, most recently with Microsoft. Doug started playing chess in earnest in 2003; he plays four to six USCF tournaments a year and has also played FIDE-rated tournaments in other countries, most recently in Bangkok and Medellin. He is currently rated 1892 by USCF. Doug enjoys teaching and playing chess because he feels it is one of the few subjects where different ideas and approaches can be applied with unbiased feedback. After all, checkmate is not subjective! Chess assists in the development of critical thinking, intellectual and emotional
      intelligence, and rewards rationality and patience. He loves that kids act like enthusiastic sponges when learning chess and especially enjoys seeing their improvement and watching their development. Doug enjoys many things besides chess: playing piano, sports and sports analytics, gardening, spending time with his wife and two dogs, reading philosophy and science fiction and travel. Doug has been a vegetarian since 2011.

    • Ed Felts
      Instructor / Coach

      Ed Felts

      Instructor / Coach

      Ed is a class A USCF rated player who was introduced at a very early age to the game of chess. His older brother explained how the pieces moved and he won the first game he ever played. He then went on to play his first tournament in Mississippi Junior Championship and won as well. Ed is a retired engineer who is enjoying his grandchildren along with his wife. Ed continued to pursue his love of the game when he joined the Kid Chess team in 2009. He now shares his passion for chess with many young students, encouraging them to develop their own skills and grow.

    • Francis Lisasi
      Instructor / Coach

      Francis Lisasi

      Instructor / Coach

      Francis is originally from Congo Kinshasa and has lived in South Africa, Belgium and Sweden. He is married, with four adult children, two of whom live in South Africa and the other two live in the US. Francis holds degrees in law and criminology and a degree in business administration/marketing. He is fluent in both French and English.

      Francis started playing chess at 8. In 2006, he took part in the national championships in the Congo, where he placed sixth! He continues to play online daily, from two to five games per day. He loves teaching chess, especially to kids because they have plenty of room for learning. He likens it to turning lead into gold

      When not playing chess, Francis can be found teaching French to all levels, from beginner to advanced. He also translates professional documents from English to French. He enjoys reading detective novels and watching good movies.

    • Greg Barnum
      Instructor / Coach

      Greg Barnum

      Instructor / Coach

      Greg has been playing chess since he was 11 years old. He has played in several chess clubs in both Florida and Georgia. He is a Vietnam veteran and a graduate of the University of Florida with graduate hours in Humanities from Penn State University. Greg has had several vocations; he has been a community college instructor, a sales rep and a realtor. He has played the French horn in several orchestras as well as refereeing soccer and instructing junior golf players. Greg is a security guard for the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta and also finds time to volunteer for child advocacy. He has recently taken up oil and acrylic painting. He enjoys cooking and wine and playing chess.

    • Herman Jones
      Instructor / Coach

      Herman Jones

      Instructor / Coach

      Herman Jones is a Sprayberry High School graduate with work experience in the fields of customer service, music production, and childcare. He began playing chess when he was 8 years old and likes to play with friends and online. Teaching children to play chess allows Herman to help them take each concept to the next level where there is always something new to discover. His hobbies include playing basketball, soccer, piano, trombone, singing, and songwriting. Herman has perfect pitch and auditioned twice for NBC’s The Voice.

    • Jacob Mbonu
      Instructor / Coach

      Jacob Mbonu

      Instructor / Coach

      Jacob is a senior at Mill Creek High School. He started playing chess with his family as a child and is one of three brothers who have worked as part of the Kid Chess team. Jacob is a USCF member and has participated in chess tournaments both as an individual and as a member of a team. When not in school or playing chess, Jacob enjoys playing soccer and guitar, skateboarding, photography, and collecting antiques. He loves teaching chess to children as it is so much fun!

    • Jamie Kazmierczak
      Instructor / Coach

      Jamie Kazmierczak

      Instructor / Coach

      Jamie is enrolled in Full Sail University. He has prior work experience as a substitute teacher and is originally from Knoxville, TN. He has played chess for over 10 years and plays each day against a chess app. Jamie enjoys strategy games, especially ones without a dominant strategy. In his spare time, he enjoys playing video games and artistic card conjuring, cardistry. He enjoys teaching chess as he likes seeing people make progress in the game.

    • Jared Radin
      Instructor / Coach

      Jared Radin

      Instructor / Coach

      Jared has been playing chess for approximately 45 years. In the 70’s he was one of the top players in Georgia and won the State Championship in 1973. Jared is a former President of the Georgia Chess Association, and he has also directed and organized many chess tournaments. Jared is a computer programmer by trade and he created KCEasyChess and the interactive chess puzzles in the “fun house” section of the Kid Chess website.

    • Jeff Martinez
      Instructor / Coach

      Jeff Martinez

      Instructor / Coach

      Originally from Queens, New York, Jeff earned an Associates in Engineering at Queens Borough Community College and a Diploma in Programming from Chattahoochee Technical College. He is also a Georgia certified interpreter; English-Spanish. Jeff’s work experience includes property management, computer technology, and junior web development. He enjoys chess since it is a game of skill and tactical prowess and plays about twice a week with a chess club. In his spare time, he enjoys HTML tutoring, computer technology, and sports forecasting.

    • Katie Lucas
      Instructor / Coach

      Katie Lucas

      Instructor / Coach

      Katie is a Georgia native, originally from Lawrenceville.  As the daughter of a former Kid Chess coach and editor of Chess Life magazine, she was raised around chess. She plays with her family and online. In addition to inheriting chess skills from her father, she inherited a love of teaching from her mother.  She likes working with children as they have different perspectives and generate creative and clever ways to accomplish things. Currently, Katie attends Kennesaw State University aspiring to be a veterinarian or to work in the area of wildlife rehabilitation. She loves animals and enjoys pet sitting, playing tennis and photography.

    • Kim Ives
      Instructor / Coach

      Kim Ives

      Instructor / Coach

      Growing up Kim learned chess from his father. After graduating from Georgia Tech, he lived in Europe for a year. There, Kim found occasions where playing chess introduced him into memorable friendships; a Russian diplomat, a German chess club member, a language school friend, and other Europeans. He worked as an environmental engineer for the Department of Natural Resources and then, after earning his master’s degree in education, Kim taught math to special students in Cobb and Clayton counties. Kim was reintroduced to chess when he taught his daughter how to play the night before a school tournament, a tournament that she won! Kim continues to teach chess as he enjoys helping and seeing his students find their confidence. Kim has practiced yoga for 25 years and uses that focus to be present with his students.

    • Kyle Hagen
      Instructor / Coach

      Kyle Hagen

      Instructor / Coach

      Kyle graduated from Kennesaw State University with a degree in business management, as well as an MBA. He played chess competitively during middle and high school. In 8th Grade, Kyle won the Georgia State Level Championships. Kyle began his career at Kid Chess as a student; he has now coached with Kid Chess for well over a decade alongside his two brothers. His favorite part of working with kids, is seeing them learn new skills and interact with challenges. Kyle’s other hobbies include exercise, nutrition, photography, and brewing.

    • Leslie Nicodemus
      Instructor / Coach

      Leslie Nicodemus

      Instructor / Coach

      Leslie hails from Baltimore, Maryland, though she spent most of her adult life in Florida and California before settling in Cobb County in early 2014. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maryland in Elementary Education. Leslie taught third grade for more than 20 years and then switched gears and became an Instructional Technology Specialist for fourth through eighth grade. She has presented at more than a dozen conferences on such subjects as how to engage students in learning and how children can learn to think and ask questions, rather than memorizing facts. Kid Chess is a natural extension to these skills, as chess playing has been scientifically proven to help build cognitive skills. 

       
      Leslie has two grown children and lives in Marietta with her Lhasa Apso, Harpo. She considers herself a casual chess player and enjoys reading, traveling, movies and developing her chess skills on line and with family and friends. Working with kids is entertaining and satisfying. There is nothing quite like the “Eureka” moment when a child makes a discovery or learns something new. She enjoys the challenge of chess. 

    • Louis Alderman IV
      Instructor / Coach

      Louis Alderman IV

      Instructor / Coach

      Louis works in our office as well as being a chess coach. He was a member of the Milton High School Chess Club and president of the club from 2003 to 2005. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Southern Polytechnic State University. In his spare time, he also works with students of all ages at a martial arts school having earned his black belt in 2019. He also volunteered with Georgia BEST robotics in 2008 and 2009.

    • Maha Sikkander
      Instructor / Coach

      Maha Sikkander

      Instructor / Coach

      Maha is originally from India and it was there, when she was twelve years old, that her cousin taught her to play chess.  Initially a casual player, Maha played a game that changed her perspective. Her queen was captured and Maha made the assumption that she would also lose the game.  However, she won that game with two rooks!  This experience increased Maha’s passion for chess. She now considers chess to be an art as it stimulates both concentration and imagination.  Maha plays frequently with friends and family, including her husband and daughter, as well as online. Maha has a Master’s degree in English Literature and a software testing certificate.  Her work experience is in this field, including database analysis, development, and testing. In her spare time, Maha enjoys learning new languages (she speaks three different Indian languages), cooking, and volunteering for the Girl Scouts.

    • Meredith Smiles
      Instructor / Coach

      Meredith Smiles

      Instructor / Coach

      Meredith attended the University of Alabama and the University of South Carolina where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Management. She went on to receive her MBA from Kennesaw State University and then worked in the management field for several companies, most recently as a human resources/business consultant. She and her husband have two children. In her spare time, she loves to play tennis and read. She learned to play chess in elementary school and considers herself a casual chess player. She enjoys sharing the strategy of chess and seeing the children have fun while learning the game.

    • Myron Morgan
      Instructor / Coach

      Myron Morgan

      Instructor / Coach

      Myron was raised in a family of eight and is now married and the proud father of three young children. He attended Ball State University in early childhood education and has worked with children in a variety of areas, including Little League soccer and as a Sunday School teacher. He began to play chess at an early age and is excited to share his love of the game through Kid Chess.

    • Norman Stokes
      Instructor / Coach

      Norman Stokes

      Instructor / Coach

      Norman has been with Kid Chess since 2005. He learned to play chess s an elementary school student, improved throughout high school, and played in his first tournament in 1977. Norman has been interpreting for the deaf for more than 40 years and has taught many deaf people how to play chess. In 1984, Norman graduated from University of Alabama in Birmingham with a MA degree in Special Education. Norman taught in Cobb County Schools and used chess as a teaching tool with some of his students.

    • Peter Esaltare
      Instructor / Coach

      Peter Esaltare

      Instructor / Coach

      Peter was born in Sacramento but has spent most of his life right here in Georgia. He
      graduated Toccoa Falls College with a B.S. in communications studies. He has taught and coached various sports to all age kids and considers himself a “Jock-Nerd” due his passion for entertainment outlets and sports. His wife is a youth soccer coach and an elite adult soccer player.

      Peter has been playing chess for a long time. He started when he was in second grade and has continue to play ever since. He loves both playing and teaching chess because he feels the game allows you to as strong as you want to be. The game is not based on luck; practicing more allows you to become more proficient, like a sport. Training + Preparation = Results. Peter really enjoys helping kids learn chess. He loves their energy and honesty; the way they breath life into a room. He works hard to build trust, but once he does Peter thinks it is the most rewarding engagement you can have with another human! Seeing their growth and success is amazing.

      Aside from being engrossed in sports and games, he has a special heart for strange foods. His favorite food is sushi! He has enjoyed escargot, and other odd delicacies in his life so far.

    • Roy Harris
      Instructor / Coach

      Roy Harris

      Instructor / Coach

      Roy was born in Gary, Indiana. He has a BA in public administration and has worked for 20 years in technology and real estate. He is married, with one son. He started playing chess at a local Starbucks and continues to do so almost every day. He enjoys the board battle in chess as well as the way it challenges growth. He especially likes helping kids learn chess because it challenges them to grow and builds character.

    • Trina Jackson
      Instructor / Coach

      Trina Jackson

      Instructor / Coach

      As a child, Trina was inspired to learn chess after years of watching her dad play with his military friends. She was a quick study and began to play in tournaments. Trina played scholastically in grades 6-12 and then collegiately. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology/English from Florida A&M University and went on to earn a BS in Hospitality Management/Travel & Tourism from Johnson & Wales University Miami and an MBA in Entrepreneurship from Nova Southeastern. She is currently studying computer science in the pursuit of her Ph.D. In her spare time, she enjoys playing chess online with friends, reading a good book, watching superhero movies, or just relaxing. Her favorite things are NFL football, Mickey Mouse, and all things Disney. Sharing her love of chess with others is one of her greatest passions!

    • Zac Bolton
      Instructor / Coach

      Zac Bolton

      Instructor / Coach

      Zac first learned to play chess as a teenager. He pursued his love of the game by volunteering at Kid Chess camps, and his game progressed from not knowing how to play to reaching a peak rating of 1836 in four years. He was ranked in the upper half of the top 100 scholastic players in the nation and an assistant instructor at Emory Castle Chess Camp. He loves regular, bullet, and bughouse chess. Zac graduated from The American School of Correspondence while dual enrolled at Chattahoochee Technical College. He then attended Furman University and worked in the area of food service management. In his spare time, Zac likes to paint, play guitar, and read, especially Ray Bradbury’s books.