HAMPDEN, Maine — In a small town in Maine, a real-life version of "The Queen's Gambit" is unfolding. David Bishop, a school custodian, is coaching the local elementary and middle school chess teams to great success, leading them to state championship titles this year.
Chess Coach by Day, Custodian by Night
The 61-year-old part-time chess coach and full-time custodian discovered his passion for chess when he joined the school's chess club after starting work in 2013. Bishop learned chess the old-fashioned way, playing with his brothers and learning the moves to checkmate his opponent's king. Today, some of his students are even good enough to beat him.
Chess Boom: A Pandemic Phenomenon
Nationwide, chess is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, partly due to the hit Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit" and the pandemic, which has driven millions to Chess.com to pass the time. The website's daily users skyrocketed from 1.5 million in February 2020 to 10 million by January 2023.
From Telecommunications to Transforming Young Lives
Bishop, who took an early retirement package from the telecommunications industry, found solace in his new school custodial job, which he started in 2013. He began volunteering with the chess club at Reeds Brook Middle School and later at George B. Weatherbee Elementary School. The middle school team recently represented Maine at the national championships in Texas, coming in eighth place out of 52 teams. The elementary school team will compete in its national championships in Maryland this weekend.
Chess: A Mind Sport with Lasting Impact
The students on Bishop's teams are continuously learning new skills and tactics, ensuring they never get bored. Chess has taught them to think ahead, be strategic, and consider the consequences of their decisions. It also helps with staying on task and staying organized. "Chess is so good for them, and most of them don't know it," Bishop said. "They're just playing chess, but it's like a workout for the brain."
Addressing Gender Imbalance in Chess
Bishop is concerned about the underrepresentation of girls in chess and aims to get more young girls interested by introducing the game at earlier ages, starting in kindergarten. As his teams continue to excel, he's getting used to losing more matches, with his students learning to exploit his weaknesses.
In this inspiring story, David Bishop is not only transforming the lives of his students through chess but also motivating a new generation of enthusiasts. His dedication and impact on children serve as a powerful reminder of how much difference one person can make, and we desperately need more individuals like him to step up and shape the future of our youth.