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Chess Community Loses Great Ambassador, Steve Dillard Print E-mail
By Frank Niro   
March 18, 2015
steve_dillard.jpgNot long ago Steve Dillard’s computer equipment was stolen from the trunk of his car in a suburban Louisville parking lot. Undaunted, the experienced TD paired the next 30-player Swiss system tournament at Meijer’s food court the old fashioned way, using pairing cards and hand written sheets of paper to run another of his seamless weekly rated events. The players in the room were mostly regulars, including some whose first USCF memberships and tournament entry fees were paid on their behalf by Steve many years, and in some cases, decades ago.

The players spontaneously got together between rounds and took up a collection to purchase a new notebook computer and printer for Steve and presented it to him at the next tournament. As Steve recounted this story to his friends at national events, he was brought to tears, not merely in appreciation for the gift but, because, as someone who devoted his life to helping others, he knew in his heart what this gesture from the players really meant.

So it was a somber evening last night as the players arrived at the club site to play chess. Many already heard the news, but others approached the registration desk and asked, “Where’s Steve?” “He won’t be coming tonight,” they were told. “He was murdered on Friday by one of his former foster care kids.”

Stephen P. Dillard, 55, was a USCF Life member, class-A player, national tournament director, and ambassador for chess.  He has been recognized with a meritorious service award in 2013 and given a TD Lifetime Achievement Award. Since his death, dozens of players and parents have come forward to say how they or their children would not be involved in chess without Steve. He will be missed by all those he touched.

Professionally, Steve was a math teacher and introduced chess into many of the Louisville areas toughest schools. He genuinely saw chess as an outlet and valuable tool for some of these youths as they moved forward to face challenges in their lives. He saw chess as "a great equalizer."

"Inner-city schools have a poor reputation sometimes,” he once said in a public forum, “but their students are tremendous when you see them at the chess board. They tend to be confident and stronger academically. No one will look at the color of their skin or the type of clothes they are wearing, because winning at chess, on equal ground, is something that can't be taken away."

His sister, Aynn Dillard, is not a chess player herself. However, she recognized her brother’s passion for the game and the importance of its community members by attending last night’s tournament to personally greet the players. “Steve touched thousands of lives through his camp counseling, teaching, basketball coaching, and chess affiliations,” she said, “and, most importantly, through his devotion to his foster children.” Steve fostered many boys over the years, all from beleaguered inner city neighborhoods, and oversaw the education of many others.

Steve also possessed an infectious sense of humor and was always calm, no matter the situation. He was known for his “Steve Dillard rule” where he allowed players to deduct five minutes from their clocks and not keep score, as a way to encourage new players. At one event held on a hot summer day, he posted a sign next to the pairings which read, “Ice Cream Truck. OK to Stop Clock.”

icecream.jpgI attended the weekly Meijer food court event last night and was touched by the fondness, gratitude and genuine respect in the room for Steve Dillard. The players come each week to play chess and they also come to visit their friend, Steve. Now his chair is empty and he is already missed throughout the chess community, not only in Louisville, but all over the country, as well as by others outside of chess from Norway to Africa.

Steve’s family has asked that his friends honor Steve’s memory by random acts of kindness. Expressions of sympathy can be made as donations to Plymouth Community Renewal Center and the West End School, both located in Louisville. Visitation will be Friday, March 20, 2015, from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM and 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM at Pearson’s, 136 Breckenridge Lane, Louisville, KY. Funeral services will be Saturday, March 21, 2015, at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Alumni Memorial Chapel, at 10:30 AM, with burial at Cave Hill Cemetery to follow.

Louisville chess March 16, 2015. Empty TD chair is Steve Dillard’s. The woman standing behind the chair is Aynn Dillard, Steve’s sister.



WHAS, ch. 11 ABC


Kentucky Chess Association discussion thread

Louisville Courier-Journal

Also look for an upcoming Chess Life Magazine article by Frank Niro remembering Steve Dillard, and feel free to share your own memories in the comments section.