At Nick’s Barbershop in Stone Mountain, you’ll see something unexpected on Saturdays.
Amid the buzzing clippers and chatting customers, you’ll see focus, dedication, learning and fun.
Since 2012, certified chess instructor Beau Hardeman has been teaching a group of first grade through 12th grade young men, for two hours each Saturday as part of a joint partnership between Nick’s Barbershop and the Unconditional Love for Children Foundation. Hardeman has been coaching chess for more than 20 years.
Vance Harper, owner of Nick’s Barbershop, has a long history of providing safe spaces for young men and women in the community to work and learn responsibility. Now, they are learning chess, too.
The students recently competed in both 2014 National Junior High (K-9) Championship April 24 in Atlanta and their instructor’s own 19th Annual Beau Hardeman Invitational Chess Tournament on May 3 in Gresham Park. Hardeman said he always encourages his students to compete.
“My approach is that if children are studying chess, they should be playing in tournaments,” he said. “My tournament is rated. If you play once, you get a rating. Even if they never perform elsewhere, they get an opportunity to perform in mine.”
Seven boys from the barbershop group participated in the tournaments. One was Leon “T.J.” Guthrie, a Champion Middle School student.
“It has always fascinated me,” Guthrie said. “I love playing against other people. It thrills me.”
Guthrie joined the chess club at his elementary school in third grade. Now 14, he meets with the other students at the barbershop to improve his game.
“I’ve come a long way in my strategy learning from Mr. Beau,” he said.
Guthrie competed in both the National Junior High and Beau Hardeman tournaments. His record was three wins, four losses at the National, and three wins, two losses at the Beau Hardeman tournament. He also placed second in the unrated division with Hardeman.
Tanisha Saunders, the mother of student Collin Laster, said that chess has already given him tangible benefits.
“Collin is starting to do a lot more critical thinking and planning ahead,” she said. “I think it’s a great program especially to teach the kids those skills.”
Laster also competed at both events, winning one round at the National tournament.
“At the national, you had to really focus and concentrate,” he said, “But at the other one, you just have to try hard and do your best.”
Hardeman said he doesn’t know what draws children to chess, specifically, but that the competitive nature and the fact that, for these kids, there is a group helping them to succeed that they don’t want to disappoint, may be a part of it.
“There’s this whole idea of having this competition with the opposing party that pulls children,” he said. “It’s not ugly and bloody and you have rules and honor–these are life-building skills.
“Plus, in a team sport they don’t have to blame themselves, you have none of that in chess. It’s mano-a-mano and you see the tears. They learn to deal with disappointment and they learn early.”
This article originally appeared in The Champion Newspaper.