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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Bishop's gambit: The chess coach is the school custodian, and the students are winners

Coached by the school custodian, students in Hampden, Maine have become chess champions, writes Sydney Page in the Washington Post. David Bishop's elementary and middle-school teams have won statewide competitions and made it to the nationals this year.

Custodian and chess coach David Bishop challenges 6th-grader Owen Isenhour. Photo: Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Bishop, 61, runs chess club sessions after school on Tuesdays and holds team practices for three hours on Saturdays.

Jennifer Cyr, the principal of Weatherbee Elementary School, said Bishop "inspires students to be their best.” Chess is "a powerful game that really promotes strategy and great executive functioning,” Cyr said. “This is beyond a game; it’s critical thinking skills, which is what we want students to do out in the world.”

Bishop started playing at age 10. “You learn by losing,” he said.

This spring, the middle-school team placed eight out of 52 teams in the U.S. Chess Federation's national championships, while elementary students placed 14th out of 53 teams.

“Little old Hampden, Maine, did really, really well,” said Bishop.

In The Queen’s Gambit, a 2020 TV series, a school janitor teaches an orphan girl to play chess. The show fueled a surge of interest in the game during the pandemic, writes Page.

Bill Camp, the actor who plays the fictional custodian and chess coach in the series, reached out to the real custodian coach to say he’d like to “visit our schools and talk to me and the kids,” Bishop said.

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