Matthew Okunevich, or Coach Matt, is a familiar figure in Phoenix scholastic chess. He works as a coach with Chess Emporium. He also coaches the students at Keystone Montessori school, in addition to many others. Under his able tutelage, Keystone kids have come to dominate chess tournaments in Arizona like no other.
Matt grew up in Illinois. He used to watch his father and grandfather play chess when he was still a first grader. He learnt to play chess then and started borrowing books on chess instruction from his elementary school library. His dedication and interest paid off handsomely when he started playing in tournaments. He started winning almost immediately and his interest grew so much that by the time he was in high school, he started reducing other activities, so that he could participate in chess tournaments, near and far.
Matt went on to study at Northern Illinois University and founded the chess club there. He was elected the president of the club and kept a busy schedule there as well. And then he was asked to coach school children and the coaching bug bit him for good. He continued his studies, while coaching children at the Jefferson elementary school. After his graduation, Chess Emporium in Phoenix offered him a full time coach’s job and he accepted it. Illinois’ loss was Arizona’s gain!
Ever since Coach Matt has taken Keystone kids under his wings, they have blossomed and grown in strength by leaps and bounds. Now there are so many strong players that, even if one or two of the top players are missing, they still win the top team trophy in almost every tournament they participate. His energy and enthusiasm shines clearly in his interaction with the kids, and they never miss a single opportunity to learn from him. He is always there in every weekend tournament, even when he doesn’t have to be. His dedication is such that, he has spent entire weekends during tournaments, encouraging the kids to do their best and doing post game analyses. Here are a couple of quotes from Keystone parents:
"Matt is simply awesome as the coach of the Keystone chess club. He has taken the club from it's inception in 2005 and has nourished, guided and coached with energy and passion, so that now the club stands 35 members strong, with many of the kids competing seriously. His commitment to the kids is astounding. He has voluntarily given up entire weekends to be there to cheer the kids on and to analyze their games when they have competed in USCF tournaments, which are unrelated to Chess Emporium's tournaments. Matt has an uncanny ability to keep the kids grounded but also competitive. There is a wonderful aura of camaraderie amongst the all the kids and all the parents. It has truly been an amazingly positive experience for the kids and Matt has made this happen."
... Frances Chandran
“Coach Matt is one of the best chess coaches I have ever seen. His enthusiasm and volunteerism in teaching and promoting chess in our school community have won many parents' respect. I especially admire his philosophy that "does whatever he can to help kids learn chess." His tireless effort in educating the children not only in chess but also understanding team spirit and sportsmanship really deserves a reputable recognition.”
... Hung-Nan Chen
Some of the recent tournament performances of the Keystone Montessori Chess Club:
1st Place at Best of Phoenix (Nov 2006)
1st Place at State Grades Scholastic, Gilbert AZ (Jan 2007)
2nd Place at State Scholastic Championships, Tucson AZ (Mar 2007)
1st Place at Governor's Cup, Peoria AZ (April 2007)
4th Place at USCF National Scholastic Blitz, Nashville TN (May 2007)
10th Place at USCF National Scholastics, Nashville TN (May 2007)
Matt will be off to Chicago Open soon and Keystone parents and children wish him all the best!