One Wednesday evening a month, laughter and chatter pours out of the Mayerson JCC board rooms as young Pokémon fans gather to play, battle, and make new friends.
Pokémon is a popular trading card game that originated in Japan, featuring its well-known mascot, an electric mouse called Pikachu. While playing the game, kids get to “battle” with their Pokémon and attempt to defeat the other player. In order to win, the kids or young Pokémon trainers read their cards and use math to figure out the best way to win against their competitor.
“Using Pokémon cards requires reading comprehension skills and even challenges kids to use algebra,” Pokémon Club coordinator Fred Schnell said. “Some cards will say something like ‘10 times an action plus another 10,’ and they calculate the amount of damage their Pokémon causes. They make all these calculations in their heads!”
Avid Pokémon fan and loyal Pokémon Club member Anna Gallaway comes every month armed with her complete Pokémon deck, ready to battle it out with her friends. While her favorite Pokémon include the famous mascot Pikachu, Jigglypuff, and Eevee, she has an array of Pokémon to choose from – considering there are more than 1,000 different characters.
Anna’s father Patrick Gallaway said that finding Pokémon Club at the J has been a wonderful experience for his daughter. The Gallaways moved from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati a year ago because of a career change within their family. Although they are not Jewish, they discovered the JCC through Patrick’s sister-in-law.
“She is really active in her JCC in Louisville, so we decided to check it out here in Cincinnati,” Patrick said.
Patrick noted that it was tough for Anna to start halfway through second grade, especially when winter break was fast approaching. It would be tough in any year, he said, but Anna spent her early school years in the COVID era, where interaction between students was decreased – and kids didn’t naturally learn how to make new friends. “Jumping in was hard for her,” he said. “But the J gave us somewhere to go and have fun. We enjoyed being able to use the pool during the winter months, so she was able to make friends there, too.”
Since her family joined the J, Anna has been involved in Pokémon Club and swim lessons, while her sister took on soccer. Patrick said that he and his wife, Danielle, also take part in some of the adult programming at the J.
Fred has noticed Anna’s growth as she becomes more confident each week at Pokémon Club. While they play together, he makes suggestions to improve her strategies, and Anna always returns eager to show Fred what she changed in her deck.
“Anna is very excited when it’s Pokémon day,” Patrick said. “She looks forward to it, and as a parent, that is great to see your kid that excited about something.”