Today the chess program in Solon, Ohio is undeniably the best in Ohio and one of the best in the nation. Indeed— in the past 3 years the Solon middle and high school teams have collectively won three team state championships and numerous grade level state championships. These victories have been the result of the collective efforts of many dedicated students who have worked tirelessly to perfect their game. There has, however, been someone predominantly behind all this success—someone who has always taught and encouraged not only Solon’s chess players, but those all around Ohio. That man is Tony Dunlap. We were able to talk with Mr. Dunlap about the Cleveland Scholastic Open and his experiences with chess:
The Cleveland Scholastic Open is Northeast Ohio’s premier scholastic chess tournament. This will be the third year it’s being held—what do you attribute this overwhelming success to?
I think the unique and non-traditional awards outside of the normal trophies have added to the appeal of the tournament. See—if two chess tournaments conflicted and I had to pick a tournament to play in, I would select the Cleveland Scholastic Open over the other tournament just because no other tournament offers the winner of the high school division the opportunity to select between college scholarships, the winner of the college division many job internships, and the winners of other divisions various E-readers, gift cards, and savings bonds. Let’s take last year for instance—every single participant received something for just being in the tournament—whether it was a “Maurice Ashley” chess board and “Think Like a Chess King” software or a “Brooklyn Castle” DVD and a “Knights of the South Bronx” DVD. On top of all that, everyone was treated to pizza as well as lunch from McDonald’s. Simply put, the short answer to your question is that the Cleveland Scholastic Open is unlike other chess tournaments, and these aforementioned differences are what will continue its success.
What were some of your favorite moments from the tournament last year?
First and foremost, I immensely enjoyed having Grandmaster Maurice Ashley at the Cleveland Scholastic Open—it was fantastic to see him interact with tournament participants. Another favorite moment of mine was witnessing Jonathan Clinton, a freshman from Case Western Reserve University, become the winner of the collegiate division where he won a job internship at GE. However, my favorite moment was receiving the following message from a father of one of the participants, “Both of my children attended the Cleveland Scholastic Open this past weekend. The tournament was remarkably well run and both of my kids benefited from competing with other children their age from around the city. Specifically, my daughter, who has aspirations to use chess to help her to earn a college scholarship one day, was very moved by the opportunity to meet and hear from Grandmaster Maurice Ashley. She was also quite aware of the number of other middle school, high school and college students who had performed well and earned trophies and internship opportunities. We are grateful to Mr. Dunlap for this experience.”
Last year GM Maurice Ashley came to the Cleveland Scholastic Open. This year, we have some of the stars of the award-winning documentary “Brooklyn Castle” coming, including chess masters Joshua Colas and James Black! What are you looking forward to regarding their visit?
I think having the young chess masters from New York come to Cleveland will allow people unfamiliar with scholastic chess the opportunity to meet remarkable young chess players and see the positives for being involved in scholastic chess.
The Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, specifically the Delta Alpha Lambda Chapter, was the group responsible for initiating the Cleveland Scholastic Open. Please talk about everything that it is doing to promote chess in Northeast Ohio. Also, what was the group’s goal in starting the Cleveland Scholastic Open?
The Cleveland Scholastic Open was designed to be part of a supplemental scholastic chess program that is aiming to reach as many school children as possible that are not only in Cleveland, Akron, and Northeast Ohio, but also in all of Ohio. Additionally, I also wanted to note that while trophies have been typically awarded to divisional winners, our plan was provide scholarships and educational tools, such as e-readers, to our winners. We felt that adding these non-traditional awards (scholarships, job internships, etc.) would draw more interest to the game of chess. On top of that, we also knew that adding these atypical awards would increase the tournament’s appeal to the more seasoned players in scholastic events and thus make attending the Cleveland Scholastic Open one of their top priorities.
What type of learning experience has organizing the tournament been for you?
In order to be successful in any endeavor you need others to see your vision and support your dream or goal. The good hearts of the sponsors and supporters have been tremendous and have really moved me. In the first year of the Cleveland Scholastic Open many of my fraternity brothers who were business owners donated money from their own pockets. Indeed—people like Susan and Angelo Stames, Meloney Karos, Don Farris, and Dr. Safuratu Aranmolate as well as companies like RPM International are the ones that help us be successful from the start. Although many people told us no for various reasons, the aforementioned supporters immediately jumped in to help. These people told me that they were willing to do anything for the kids in Cleveland and that they believed in what we were doing. At the end of the day, organizing is undoubtedly hard work, but I consider it a labor of love. I want to provide all the kids that have the desire to play chess with the opportunity to experience a game that I love.
What do you have to say about the benefits of chess in education—any stories you’d like to share?
Many people believe competitive chess directly contributes to academic performance. Chess truly makes kids smart because it teaches and enhances skills like planning, visualizing, and focusing. That being said, I would like to share a testimonial to the benefits of chess from a friend of mine. He said, “In 2012, my nine year old son and seven year old daughter were introduced to chess by Mr. Tony Dunlap. Since they have started playing chess, I have noticed that their mathematical aptitude has increased significantly and that they are both more attentive and careful in their school work—I attribute these improvements to chess.” Everything taken to consideration, if the aforementioned skills are truly a benefit of playing competitive chess, then why aren’t more kids playing? Why aren’t there more chess programs in the school systems across the country? That is the question—a question that I am working to address and a question that I am sure that Invest in Chess will do its best to address as well.
We appreciate Tony Dunlap taking the time to speak with us as well as his support of what we do to promote chess. Invest in Chess will be working in association with Mr. Dunlap and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity by spreading the word/ directing the publicity efforts of the Cleveland Scholastic Open. We hope to see you at this fantastic tournament in October!