A school custodian in Hampden, Maine has led his elementary and middle school chess teams to state championship titles. David Bishop, a part-time chess coach and full-time custodian, has drawn comparisons to the popular Netflix series, “The Queen’s Gambit.” Bishop learned about the school’s chess club after beginning work as a custodian in 2013, and volunteered to coach the team at George B. Weatherbee Elementary School, followed by Reeds Brook Middle School. Nationwide, chess has experienced a new wave of popularity since the pandemic, with kids turning to Chess.com to relieve boredom. The website had 1.5 million daily users in February 2020 and grew to 4.5 million by the end of 2020, with 10 million users by January 2021, according to the company.
In Hampden, Bishop’s elementary and middle school teams recently represented Maine at the national championships in Texas, where they placed eighth. The primary school national championships are this weekend in Maryland. Chess has taught team members how to think ahead, be strategic, and consider the outcomes of decisions. Bishop views chess as a workout for the brain, helping students stay organized and focused.
After leaving the telecommunications sector early and taking a job as a custodian, Bishop found success as a coach. The 61-year-old learned chess the old-fashioned way using a family chessboard and played with his brothers. Despite enjoying the game, Bishop did not join his high school chess club, worried he would be typecast as a nerd – a stereotype that no longer applies thanks to chess’s growing appeal.
Bishop’s team includes Eli Marquis, who at 12 years old stated that chess players consistently learn new skills, allowing them to improve and avoid getting bored. Similarly, Eddie LaRochelle, 13, said that, like other competitive team sports, chess requires a strong work ethic and performance goals for victories. Chess lessons often carry into other areas of life, helping students to stay strategic, organized, and on-task.
While Bishop understands comparisons to the janitor in “The Queen’s Gambit,” he is helping dozens of students of all skill levels and backgrounds. His only concern is the lack of girls taking up chess, as the game remains dominated by men and boys. Bishop hopes to get children interested in chess at an earlier age, starting as young as kindergarten. Looking forward, Bishop is eager to see how far his teams can go, even while he gains more experience losing to his own students and attending Chess.com’s unprecedented period of growth.