For the third time in four years, the Whitney Young Dolphins have captured the Illinois state championship in chess, earning a trip to next month’s national tournament in California.
The team from Young went 7-0 in the state tournament, finishing atop the ranks of 138 Illinois schools.
“It was the second year we went undefeated at state, but the victory was harder won this time,” said Young Assistant Principal Mark Grishaber. “We were favored going in, so the schools we played brought their best game. But our students brought their best as well.”
The team is led by seniors Phillip Hoang and Sam Schmakel, the latter of whom defeated Assistant Principal Grishaber, a longtime chess coach, when he was in kindergarten.
“I first played Sam in a bookstore when he was six years old, and he beat me then,” said Grishaber. “I knew then that he was something special.”
The Young team also includes freshmen Bailey Baker and Kiana Hobbs - the team’s only girls – and depicts the vast cultural diversity that is celebrated daily at Whitney Young.
“The team gets along well, mainly because they genuinely like each other,” said Grishaber. “Like any group of teenagers, they give each other grief, but they really support each other too.”
And with up to eight chess games going at once, even during practice, they have a tremendous opportunity to learn from each other.
“Chess players compete as individuals, but they learn as a team,” said Grishaber. “The game helps students develop math, spatial, and reasoning skills, and much of that comes from walking around and observing other games while they wait for their opponent to make the next move.”
For eight of the past nine years, the chess team from Whitney Young has finished in the top three at State, making theirs one of the most successful programs in all of CPS. The 2014 state championship team will go on to compete in the national tournament in San Diego, where they are expected to finish among the Top 10 schools in the country.
“We’re proud of our students for their victory, but mostly we want them playing chess because they love it,” said Grishaber. “This is a game that allows students to have fun and be themselves, which means that it generates a tremendous amount of good will for our entire district.”