Way Up North




Dewain Barber

In the course of my travels, I had an opportunity to visit my sister who lives in Wasilla, Alaska.As part of that trip, my wife and I flew up to Barrow, Alaska, to see the northernmost school district in the United States and visit the town.

We were given a tour of the town and a ride in the local tour bus which was also the school bus.We saw the local Mexican restaurant (to my knowledge the northernmost Mexican restaurant in the US or probably anywhere), the Bowhead whale exhibit, a location where seal meat was drying, and the Town Hall.

I asked the tour guide if they had a chess club in Barrow and he replied, “Steve Culbertson has a chess club for his 7th and 8th grade students at the school.”

After I returned home to Southern California, I contacted the Barrow school and ended up speaking to Steve.I asked if he would be interested in a match between his students and my students from Buena Park Junior High.He said, “Yes, but how are we going to exchange moves?”Since this was before the Internet, I suggested we fax the moves.We agreed that each week we would fax moves with 8 games to be played.No player was allowed to consult or be helped with his choice of moves.

Everything progressed nicely until March when I received a phone call from Steve.He said, “Our North vs South match will have to be postponed for two weeks.”

I asked, “Are you going to be on spring break, or do you have a personal problem?”

He replied, “No, nothing like that.It’s just that all the kids will be seal hunting and helping out with family chores so the school will be closed.”I was truly surprised at first, but recovered and then I wondered how I would explain this to my chess team of junior high players who lived in sunny Southern California.

I got the team together and explained that the match with Barrow would be postponed for seal hunting.I dare say that it was the most unusual adjournment in scholastic chess history!Chess truly has no boundaries.In case you are planning a trip to play some chess in Barrow, you will find the temperature for February 17, 2009 to be -15 degrees F with a Low of -36 degrees F.