Revised August 31, 2016
By Ralph Bowman
Mr. Barber learned chess in Norman, Oklahoma from his older brother Dwight, and shortly thereafter joined a school chess club in 7th grade. He played in his first tournament, a scholastic event, in Tulsa that year.
His favorite memory as a chess player happened at the Cerritos Chess Club in Southern California on December 19, 1975. This was a large chess club that often held simultaneous exhibitions (simul) with grandmasters. One of these simuls was with six-time US Champion Grandmaster Walter Browne. The simul started at 9 PM. At 1 AM Dewain looked around the room and notice many empty chairs. He had been concentrating so much on his game that he did not notice there were only seven boards still going. He was up an exchange and a pawn. Taking into consideration how tired he was, Dewain offered a draw and it was accepted. GM Browne’s result for that simul was 57 wins, 2 draws and 3 losses.
He played off and on over his school years. Upon graduation from Northern Arizona University, he started a teaching career in the Buena Park Elementary School District in Buena Park, California where he taught World and American History to 7th and 8th Grade students for 30 years.
During his teaching, the staff at his school was asked to provide a club for the students to volunteer to join. He chose chess and games. Later this was to become the chess club that he continued for 27 years.
Mr. Barber relates these stories about his chess teams:
“As chess coach one of my favorite stories was an encounter with a new student, Andrius Kulikauskas who was later to join my Buena Park Junior High Chess Club. As I had been playing tournament chess for several years, I had reached a level of 1410. During the school day I would play students before school and during lunch. On one particular lunch time Andrius (Andrew) walked in and starting watching my game that I was playing with one of the members of the chess club. While these games were in progress I usually answered questions about homework and graded papers, which was not disrespectful of the chess players whom I played. This multi-tasking kept me busy and able to have fun at chess as well.
When I finished the game I was playing, Andrew asked if he could play me. Usually I have new students play someone in the club first, but I decided to see what this young man knew about chess.
As the game progressed nothing was unusual and I graded papers and talking to students about their work. After several more mechanical moves I noted that I had lost the center and I was a Pawn down. Not to fear I was a “skilled” tournament player and I would pick up the Pawn in the middlegame. Continuing to multi-task I once again looked at the board and noted that I was now a Rook and a Pawn down with a gathering crowd of chess club members. Fortunately, they were not drooling, but seemed very excited. I was excited as well! What is happening here? A student who walked in off the playground had never to this point in my coaching career beaten me. I put aside the papers I was grading and starting really concentrating on the game. In addition, I asked students not to ask questions about their schoolwork till I finished this game. It was not looking good for the old coach. I began concentrating on the game at hand and with good play I won in the endgame. Later on Andrew was to become a US Chess Federation National Chess Master.
The best finish my National team ever achieved was tied for 5th Place at the National Junior High in Terre Haute, IN. Other teams have placed 14th or in the top 25.”
“One particular student who stands out is a young 7th Grade student who told me later in life that he only came to school because chess was available before school and during lunch. I do not know if this was the driving force in his life, but he later graduated from college and went on to teach chess and math. In addition, National Master Joe Hanley decided to open a chess center in Irvine, CA to support all the young people who wanted to learn about the game.”
“Another young 7th Grade student that should be mentioned was active in Scholastic Chess through High School, received an appointment to West Point. Since I lost track of him I had no idea where he was. As it turned out I was at a National Junior High event nearly 20 years later where I was attending a coaches meeting. When the meeting was completed and I prepared to leave, I heard a voice from behind that said, “How are you doing Mr. Barber? I turned around to see my former student, Ed Motley, in the meeting. I was impressed when he asked me to meet his team that had come to that National event. As I arrived at the team room he introduced me to his players who were having a great time and then he introduced me to his son, a member of the chess team. This happened again in April 2011 at the event in Huntington Beach, CA called the Dewain Barber Scholastic sponsored by NM Joe Hanley.”
In 1974 Mr. Barber attended a meeting in the City of Orange, CA that brought together organized chess from throughout Orange County. Mr. Barber has assisted or organized the Bernard Morrison Scholastic Chess Tournament (Bernard Morrison taught chess to Orange County elementary students since 1974) and Miley Staser Scholastic Chess Tournament (who also taught elementary students since 1977) in Southern California.
As Scholastic Chess growth occurred in this country, Mr. Barber was part of that effort. He created “The Guide to Scholastic Chess” which provides information to school-based persons on how to start a chess club. Over 50,000 copies have been distributed and it is currently available on the “Teachers & Coaches” page of the US Chess website. This book is the basis for the US Chess Certified Local Chess Coach (Level I) test. This publication has been given away free since its inception.
He has been a member of the U.S. Chess Federation’s Life Member Assets committee, Scholastic Committee, and former member of the Scholastic Council. During this time he asked the US Chess Delegates to create the Scholastic Service Award to recognize persons for their “Many Contributions to Scholastic Chess”. In addition, he helped create the National Girls Tournament of Champions (NGTOC). He has been chairman of the GM Arnold Denker Tournament of High School Champions. For more information on his involvement with the Denker Tournament see “GM Arnold Denker: The Legacy”.
Because of his life of teaching and coaching K-8 players, Mr. Barber wanted to create a national tournament specifically geared for the winners of State Championships who were in Grades 8 and under. In 2010 the US Chess Board of Delegates approved the “Dewain Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions”. The inaugural tournament was held July 30 to August 2, 2011 in Orlando, FL. The K-8 players played in the same room and at the same time as the players in the “GM Denker Tournament of High School Champions”.
In September 1982 Dewain started his company, American Chess Equipment. He began the company because he had found it difficult for schools to purchase chess equipment at reasonable prices. The company now does business in all 50 states and 10 foreign countries. He has committed his company, American Chess Equipment, to continue to sponsor the Denker and Barber tournaments. The company was recently sold to Shelby Lohrman and has continued to be a chess equipment supplier to the chess community.
When asked, “How has the game of chess influenced your life?” the following was his response:
“As a schoolteacher I was seeking something to enrich the lives of young people. Chess became that vehicle. I have seen the positive effects of Chess on thousands of Scholastic players, met dedicated coaches, organizers and had an opportunity to travel around the world meeting people and playing this game. When I was in China I went to a school and meet some teachers who were directing a school program in Chess. They valued Chess as a learning tool as much as I do. As Chairman of the GM Denker Tournament of High School Champions, it has been my pleasure to meet some of the nicest high school students that this country has to offer. The Denker Tournament has been one of the stepping-stones for numerous Grandmasters and I thank GM Arnold Denker and his son, Mitchell Denker for creating and supporting this event. The people I have met in my life in chess have enriched my life many fold.”
Mr. Barber has been a recipient of the following awards:
1995 Recognition for his 20 years of service to Scholastic Chess by the Southern California Chess Federation Board
2000 Teacher of the Year, Buena Park School District
2000 US Chess Scholastic Service Award
2002 US Chess Special Services Award
2003 Volunteer of the Year Award of Junior Achievement of Southern California
2008 U.S. Chess Trust Harold Dondis Award
2010 US Chess Meritorious Service Award
2014 City of Fullerton, CA 40 Year Achievement Award for Morrison Scholastic Chess Tournament
2016 US Chess Distinguished Service Award for Lifetime of Dedication to Chess