International Oware grandmaster leads training sessions Toronto schools

Trevor “Simple” Simon teaches in Toronto

By Neil Armstrong

International Oware grandmaster Trevor “Simple” Simon is pleased with the work that he did last week with students at four schools of the Toronto District School Board and as special guest at Brookhaven Public School’s First Annual Oware Mini Tournament.
Last year, Brookhaven’s Black Student Alliance (BSA) introduced students and staff to the West African boardgame Oware, an abstract strategy game among the mancala family of board games (pit-and- pebble strategy games).

Through regular workshops led by community support worker, Kofi Sankofa, students have improved their skills, and staff at one of their own meetings this year set aside time to train all Brookhaven staff on Oware and its connections to Mathematics.

“My ultimate vision is to develop Oware “Math” schools from primary to high schools where our students can develop cultural competencies, focus, concentration, positive attitude, leadership and mental math skills. Oware teaches life skills and strategies to become successful citizens in Jamaica, Canada, USA and the Caribbean,” said Sankofa.
Following the community’s enthusiasm, the decision was made to host Brookhaven’s first ever Oware Tournament, which hosted surrounding schools with BSAs: Pelmo, Maple Leaf, and Amesbury. The tournament featured 32 students —8 students per school— and participants were also invited to attend a training date on June 10.

“The game of Oware teaches them the background of our African heritage to begin with because we always delve into the history when we do it. But most importantly, the knowledge that you pass on these children is how to use the game of Oware to become better persons in life,” said Simon who is from Antigua and Barbuda and led the training and tournament.

He said he has a template that teaches the students how to problem solve and how to do mental calculations rapidly. “We teach them how to analyze, we teach them how to focus, how to concentrate, and how to be better students by taking on a better attitude. We do a theoretical exercise before we engage them in playing Oware by outlining some words.”

Kameron Kennedy, 9, of Pelmo Park Public School emerged the winner of the tournament. His teacher, Sherikka Cooper, who taught him the game, said it allowed him to harness the focus that he did not have in other areas of the classroom.

“In addition to that, he wasn’t the most confident person and I think that kind of hindered his learning as well. But with the game he had a certain level of confidence because I would often have him teach other students how to play too. And that helped him to be a little bit more successful when it came to learning other math concepts in the classroom.”

Simon told the students that every letter of the alphabet has a number assigned to it. “We choose a circle of words like “attitude,” “concentrate,” “focus,” “education” and “leadership,” and try to show them how these things link together to create better individuals, better citizens and at the end of the day better leaders.”

Simon was the Oware world champion from 1999-2002 and won all the international tournaments held at the Mind Sports Olympiad (MSO) London from 1998 to 2000 thus being accorded the title “Oware Grandmaster” by the Mind Sports Council in 1999.

He is also an organizer of the annual “National Warri Festival” of Antigua, which is one of the largest mancala tournaments. Mancala is a generic name for this type of “count and capture” game and stems from the Arabic word which means “to move,” notes a search online. In 2002, he played in a scene of “No Seed,” a thriller featuring Warri.

Antigua and Barbuda honoured Simon as a Commander of the Nation during its independence celebration in 2022 and he has been a sought-after presenter at many schools.

Although not remunerated for all the sessions he facilitates, Simon said “at the end of the day I get the joy when I see my students turn out to be valedictorians at schools and they attribute their success to learning Oware. That for me is worth a million dollars.” He noted that whenever he won competitions, he did not perceive it as a win for himself but for his homeland.

“Oware does wonders for you. It makes you a better person, it teaches you respect for others, it teaches you how to plan, how to concentrate, how to build unity—all those things and a lot more. It creates cross-cultural relationships for a lifetime and broadens that whole unity spirit across the globe,” he said.