News - Record (Greensboro, NC)
Sunday, October 14, 2012 - News-Record -
Edition: Rockingham Zone - R1 

News & Record (Greensboro, NC) (Published as Greensboro News & Record (NC)) - October 14, 2012  |  Author/Byline: Ann Fish  |   Edition: Rockingham Zone |  Section: Triad  |   Page: R1

Champion checker player got an early jump        

      STONEVILLE - Most children learn to play checkers at an early age. And for most, it's just another form of entertainment.

But for John Webster, who began playing checkers when he was 5 or 6 years old at a country store in his native Shiloh, the game has evolved into international competition.

When he was 10, some of the top players in the area recognized Webster's interest and talent, and they began taking him to compete in games at the old Reidsville Armory, considered the "checkers mecca" in the area. The competitions drew the best players from Virginia and several neighboring counties.

Those older players also entered Webster in tournaments in Danville, Va., Draper, Burlington and the Winston-Salem YMCA Chess & Checker Association.

In 1958, at the age of 16, Webster played in his first state tournament - two years before he graduated from Stoneville High School.

Webster continued playing checkers while studying to be a veterinarian at Oklahoma State University and while in the Army from 1967 to 1969. After his military stint, Webster joined Dr. Fred Coates at the Reidsville Veterinary Hospital.

Webster, now 70 and semiretired, has played thousands of games over the years, leading to eventual competitions at the national and international levels.

"In the early days, a lot more people competed," Webster said. Once, there were as many as 130 in a national tournament in Tennessee. Today, competitors generally number 40 to 45.

"We are thankful that the Internet brings in a few young ones," but most of the competitors are older, he said.

Webster and his wife, the former Mickie Baughn of Stoneville, have traveled throughout the United States and Europe so that he can compete in master class checkers events. On Sept. 26 and 27, Webster participated in the Western States Tournament in Las Vegas. After playing 32 games over the two-day period, Webster placed third.

Webster won his fifth state championship title in May 2011. Then this past May, Webster and Teal Stanley of Greensboro tied for first in the North Carolina tournament in Greensboro.

"We had exactly the same match points and honor points," he said.

"Sometimes we play very long hours, and I get tired," Webster admitted. He has played 21/2 hours in one game.

In 1989, Webster joined the international team and played in England.

The international competitions are held about every six years and the playing sites are rotated among countries.

A relatively new event is the World Invitational Checkers competition. Webster went to Dublin in 2011 to play in that and finished fourth.

Webster's greatest achievement came in 2007 when he won the national championship in Las Vegas, he said.

"A guy from South Africa had two more honor points than I had, but we had the same match points," he said.

Webster claimed the national title because that competitor was from another country.

Now, the Websters are looking forward to a trip to Alabama in November. Webster will compete in the 45th district tournament, comprised of members from several Southern states.

Although a lot of people play checkers on the Internet, Webster said he doesn't have time for Internet play.

"I always get called out (for medical emergencies) in the middle of a game," he said.

In fact, Webster got several calls while doing this interview and had to cut it short to go treat a horse with a cut on its neck.

Reidsville native Ann Fish has lived in Eden since 1979. Contact her at annsomersfish

         Caption: Special to the News & Record John Webster (right) of Shiloh plays a match against Frank Davis at the Nationals in Tennessee. Webster won his fifth state championship title in May 2011. Then this past May, Webster and Teal Stanley of Greensboro tied for first in the North Carolina tournament in Greensboro.