Army veteran enjoys park chess

Published 12:00 pm Monday, June 6, 2016

On Sundays at Avent Park, you can often find Alan Blackburn playing chess.

Blackburn, who grew up in northern Iowa, spent 20 years in the U.S. Army after graduating high school. Then he moved to northern Minnesota.

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“The last job I had over there, I worked in a factory that made french fry products,” he said. “This winter, I just decided I was going to goof off, and I came South and just happened to stop off in Oxford.”

Blackburn said he decided to travel South by looking at a weather map. Memphis seemed like a good spot.

“Memphis was right on the edge of a cold front,” he said.

He traveled to Memphis, but he didn’t like the traffic.

That led him to drive to Pontotoc.

“I went to Pontotoc for about two weeks, but there really wasn’t anything over there,” he said. “So I decided to check out Oxford.”

Blackburn said he discovered the Oxford Activity Center and began playing dominoes and other games there. Then he decided to start a chess program.

“I got too many young kids who knew nothing about chess, and trying to teach them in one hour just didn’t really work out,” he said.

Instead, he now comes to Avent Park and plays chess with whomever shows up and wants to learn on Sundays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

“I get a lot of people who come for just one time,” he said. “I don’t get a lot of repeats.”

Blackburn said he’ll return to Minnesota sometime between now and November.

He won’t stay in Oxford because it’s “too hot.”

Blackburn is usually at the park every afternoon except Wednesdays. If you’re interested in learning how to play chess, give him a call at 218-839-3289.

About LaReeca Rucker

LaReeca Rucker is a writer, reporter and adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

A veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she spent a decade at the Gannett-owned Clarion-Ledger - Mississippi's largest daily newspaper - covering stories about crime, city government, civil rights, social justice, religion, art, culture and entertainment for the paper's print and web editions. She was also a USA Today contributor.

This year, she received a first place award from the Mississippi Press Association for “Best In-Depth Investigative Reporting.” The story written in 2014 for The Oxford Eagle chronicles the life of a young mother with two sons who have epilepsy, and details how she is patiently hoping legalized cannabis oil experimentation will lead to a cure for their disorder.

Her website is

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