By Day, He Sweeps School Halls. After That, a 'Noble' Coaching Gig

Dave Bishop has mentored Maine schoolkids in chess, helping them win state championships
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 15, 2023 8:52 AM CDT
School Custodian Coaches Kids to Chess Championships
Custodian and chess coach David Bishop challenges sixth grader Owen Isenhour during after-school practice on April 25 in Hampden, Maine.   (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

When Dave Bishop was 50, he decided he'd had enough of his 30-year telecommunications career. He took a retirement package, and a job as a custodian in a Maine school district, figuring it would be a lot less stressful than what he used to do. Now, more than a decade later, Bishop is still in that role—but it's his job as chess coach that has him making headlines. The AP reports the 61-year-old led teams this year from both Reeds Brook Middle School and George B. Weatherbee Elementary School in Hampden to state championship titles, in a story reminiscent of Netflix's The Queen's Gambit, in which an orphan chess prodigy is inspired to play by a janitor at her orphanage.

Bishop's middle school team came in eighth (out of 52 teams) in its national championships in Texas in April, while the elementary school team came in 14th out of 53 teams this past weekend in Maryland. Their coach grew up playing chess against his brothers in the family barn, though he never played competitively in high school or beyond, as he didn't want to seem nerdy. In 1972, when he was 10, he closely followed American chess master Bobby Fischer's matches against Russia's Boris Spassky, whom Fischer beat for the World Chess Championship. "That's really what got me interested in chess," Bishop told the Bangor Daily News in March. "That's what Bobby Fischer did for the nation, really."

He says his brothers and friends "would just destroy me. But that's how you get better. You lose, and you learn." Bishop has now instilled that love of the game in his students, who say they work hard to improve their skills. "I usually play at least two hours a night," 11-year-old Avery Zhang, one of Bishop's elementary players, tells NPR. He says of his coach: "He motivates lots of kids to, like, join." One of Bishop's goals as he continues his coaching gig: to get more girls involved. Right now, there's just a single girl on the middle school team, but Bishop's hope is that he can start to pique kids' interest in the game as early as kindergarten to change that.

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He also emphasizes to his young charges that playing chess is about more than winning. "I tell my kids that chess mirrors your life," he says, per the Daily News. "If you work hard ... if you're not discouraged by failure, you will be successful." He adds: "I feel like a grampy with 24 grandkids." Bill Camp, the actor who plays Mr. Shaibel, the janitor in The Queen's Gambit, has nothing but compliments for Bishop and says he hopes to pay a visit to Hampden soon to congratulate Bishop and the teams on their successes. "What he's doing is about as noble as one can do," Camp says, per the AP. "He's doing the greatest service." (More uplifting news stories.)

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