School custodian leads chess teams to Nationals

Similar to “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix, Hampden’s school janitor coaches two chess teams to win state titles
Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 3:22 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 27, 2023 at 6:57 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HAMPDEN Maine (WABI) - Both the elementary and middle schools in Hampden are making headlines in the sport of chess.

Both teams were crowned champions at the Maine Scholastic Chess Championships earlier this month.

It’s a pretty big deal for the school district and a familiar story for fans of the Netflix series, “The Queen’s Gambit.”

The pounding of chess pieces and the clicking of the time clock play off each other like a metronome in the library at Reeds Brook Middle School in Hampden.

These students are currently the best elementary and middle school chess players in Maine.

Soon, they’ll be competing to be the best of the best at the national chess tournaments.

“To have both of them advance makes us very proud,” says their coach, David Bishop. “And they worked hard all year. You should have heard us when we won our first place prizes.”

“Watch the clock,” warns Bishop as he plays a match against one of his younger players.

Bishop- yes that’s “bishop” like the chess piece, coaches both the George Weatherbee Elementary School and Reeds Brook Middle School chess teams. They put in 300 plus hours each season between practice and tournaments.

“Each tournament typically with travel included, lasts 12-16 hours,” explains Bishop. “I’ve told many kids if you love chess, just to love it, you’re going to be better than any top player, because you’ll keep showing up.”

Bishop does, calling it a labor of love. That’s because he volunteers to coach both teams, without pay.

“Yes, yes I do,” he says, smiling humbly.

Bishop is no stranger to the school though. He’s worked at Weatherbee since 2015.

That’s right, just like Mr. Shaibel in Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit,” Bishop is the school custodian.

“I was Shaibel before Shaibel was in the movies,” he says chuckling.

Bishop grew up playing chess. He started when he was 10 after reading about Bobby Fischer in the local newspaper.

More than half a century later, he’s passing on both his moves and his motivation.

“I love chess personally,” says eighth grader Leo Holmes. She joined the chess team just this year after moving to Hampden.

“I’ve been playing with my grandfather since I was pretty little. My grandfather’s not as good as I thought he was,” she says, laughing.

In addition to both the elementary and middle school teams winning the state titles, 5th grader Avery Zhang was named the Maine Scholastic Individual Chess Champion for grades K through 5.

“It’s a fun game- involves a lot of thinking, logic and skill,” Zhang says.

“I tell them, when you work hard, and you show up at every tournament, kind of marrying what you do in life later, like showing up for work every day and working hard, you’re going to get rewarded,” says Bishop. “And we’re being rewarded.”

“Check mate is coming,” says Bishop, making his final move to win the game. His opponent’s eyes widen as she watches her coach zig zag his way across her side of the board.

“Good game, good game,” he says, capturing the king and extending out his hand for the customary checkmate shake.

The Reeds Brook Middle school team will head to Texas next month to compete. In May, The George B. Weatherbee team will travel to Baltimore.

But to do that, they need to raise about $50,000 to help pay for their trips.

They’ve set up a Go Fund Me page to help with those efforts.