Kindred’s Special: Saluting a Chess Hero and Teacher from West Virginia

Occasionally I have come across or have had friends send me materials on chess which they thought I would like to add to my library.  One such piece of literature I thought my readers might enjoy as it pertains to chess history from West Virginia.  If we don’t acknowledge such historical fact, then those times that enrich many parts of our country will be lost and forgotten except by a few who lived them as written by J. W. Benjamin, Jr.

“West Virginia is probably not noted for its chess players.  But deep in the mountains there, a fine old prep school, Greenbrier Military School, once boasted some outstanding chess teams.

It all started with a man known simply as Captain Tomlinson, an instructor at the institution and an avid fan of the game, who organized a chess team at the school back in the 1940s.  Though a high school chess team was unheard of in the area at that time, he set out not only to teach and inspire his boys, but to play an interscholastic schedule.

I won the honor of playing number one board.  We began by defeating the faculty, then went on to beat Ashford General Hospital which replaced the famous Greenbrier Hotel during World War II.  I still remember the resplendent cadet uniforms we wore in contrast to the faded pajamas and bathrobes worn by the wounded veterans.  We took a two-day trip into Virginia and defeated Fork Union Military Academy.

We were undefeated when we traveled to the city of Charleston to play our final match against the YMCA team located there.  We tried hard but lost.  I had the prestigious honor of facing the West Virginia state junior champion, a small boy only twelve years old.  I was seventeen, a big strapping fellow.  I strove mightily.  The games were long and arduous, but never in doubt.  He took me two straight.  My young opponent immediately ran to Captain Tomlinson and announced enthusiastically: “He’s got potential ! ”  I didn’t know exactly how to take that after being so soundly thrashed!

Fifteen years later as an instructor at Greenbrier I organize a chess team.  We went undefeated, being featured on the front page of the school newspaper along with our undefeated varsity football team.  The school’s faculty and cadet corps were proud of all of us.

Greenbrier Military School is closed now, a victim of the anti-military sentiment during the Vietnam War that closed so many military schools.  However, a good many West Virginia high schools now have chess teams and play each other in interscholastic matches.  And it all started with Captain Tomlinson.

Years of stress and tribulation have made chess only a cherished memory, but through it all I can still hear that youngster of twelve exclaiming in a noble final flourish after trouncing me…”He’s got potential !” FINIS.

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