The Mike Zacate Coach of the Year Award

The ICCA Coach of the Year is selected each year by a vote of ICCA members from a field of nominations. Nominations are submitted from other coaches, students, faculty, and parents in Illinois chess programs. All ICCA coaches are eligible for nominations.

Mike Zacate is the founding coach of the Illinois Chess Coaches Association.  His tireless efforts over 4 decades involved advocating for chess throughout the state, supporting coaches and conferences, sending out newsletters and other communications, and running tournaments while coaching others to do so as well.  He did this while also being a father and husband, a teacher, and a coach of his own team.  This Coach of the Year award is named after him in recognition of his dedication to the sport and the larger chess community.


Coaches honored by the ICCA Coach of the Year award will only be so honored once in their career, even though some coaches’ success merit selection several times. ICCA Coach of the Year honorees demonstrate dedication to chess beyond their team and contribute to the Illinois chess community at large. Coaches earning this award have demonstrated contributions to the Illinois chess community over a period of years. When making a submission, please consider the following variety of factors:

A nomination is to include one paragraph description of the reasons the nominee should be selected as Coach of the Year (please limit your submission paragraph to no more than 300 words; the ICCA staff reserves the right to edit nominations over 300 words). To nominate a coach, fill out the Nomination Form below. If you have questions, please e-mail the ICCA Secretary.


Voting for the Coach of the Year takes place electronically during the first week of tournament play at the IHSA State Chess Tournament. Ballots are collected through the end of Round 4.  Be sure to be on the ICCA E-mail list to receive your ballot.

ICCA Chess Coaches of the Year

1996 - present

2024 - Catherine Tallon, Bolingbrook

      Coach Tallon is an amazing coach and tournament organizer.  She entered the chess coaching arena several years ago with little to no chess experience.  She's never shied away from a challenge, and she's met every obstacle with skill and grace.  In her first year, she took over one of the largest tournaments in the state and has grown it into something even more special;  dozens of teams benefit from her organizing prowess at the Bolingbrook Raider event every December.  Further, despite being a newcomer to chess, she has coached her team into one of the more competitive teams playing today. The Bolingbrook team is at several tournaments each year, and their continued improvement is obvious in the standings.  Throughout her time coaching this team, they have steadily improved their chess, but the friendly, welcoming team vibe was clear from the very beginning.  Her leadership has guided her players to success both on and over the chessboard.  Unfortunately, this season (23-24) is her last, but she will leave behind a better Bolingbrook team, SWSC conference, and state.  Illinois chess is better off for Coach Tallon's service, and she deserves to be recognized as the 2024 Coach of the Year.

2024 Nominees:

2023 - Lucian Bogdan, Summit (Argo)

      I would like to nominate Coach Lucian Bogdan from Argo Community High School for the ICCA Coach of the year.   Lucian’s teams have consistently won 5 matches at the IHSA State Tournament and have rarely (never?) finished outside the top 30.   His program is one of the most active in the State.  Argo competes in numerous tournaments, hosts one of their own, and competes at Nationals every year.   Argo is successful without a true feeder program and with Lucian as the only coach for a roster that regularly boasts 20+ players.

     During the online COVID season, Lucian provided and presented his Master Your Chess website at the ICCA Coaches Clinic that he created to help with player development.   It is an amazing website that will take players of any ability level and teach them the game of chess in a logical order, from beginner to master.   And he offered it, free to use and for the benefit of the chess community as a whole.    Additionally, in further service to the chess community, Lucian represents the South Suburban Conference and attends the IHSA State seeding meeting annually.

     I have watched the interaction of Lucian with his players and I know he deeply cares for them as people and players.  He has an amazing heart and is one of the most genuine and caring coaches that I know.  I cannot think of a more deserving Coach for this award that has been a long time coming for Lucian Bogdan.

2023 Nominees:

2022 - Paul Kash (Chicago - Whitney Young HS)

         Over his fifteen years as head coach Paul Kash’s Whitney Young Dolphins have won more state championships than any other coach in IHSA history. Four years ago, his team was USCF high school national co-champions, an honor no Illinois team has won since the 1970s. Last year Whitney Young again was back on top winning their sixth IHSA state championship under Paul Kash. His teams have been so successful, that we have come to assume their success, and have overlooked the coach for this honor. 

     Paul’s contributions extend beyond the success of his team at state. He has been a strong advocate of chess in Chicago Public Schools. Every summer he hosts chess camps providing master-level instruction for the youth of Chicago. He is an invaluable resource for his fellow CPS coaches, helping to train new coaches.  

     Ultimately as chess coaches the most important contribution, we make is that on the lives of our players. Paul’s players and their families recognize and appreciate his efforts as not only a coach, but fundraiser to make sure that all of his players can go to both state and nationals. The impact Paul's had on so many students throughout his career can be summed up nicely by a message from a former players sent last year after the state championship, “I don’t know if I ever said this to you directly… Really appreciate you… Your program’s actually something special and it’s a great place for a lot of kids to just hang out after school and feel welcomed…”

     For his contributions to his players and fellow coaches this year and the past decade plus, Paul Kash deserves to be recognized as coach of the year.

2022 Nominees:

2021 - Sean Fisher-Rohde (Palatine HS)

     Coach Sean Fisher-Rohde is a pillar of the ICCA Community.  As coach of Palatine High School, his teams have seen successes and struggles over the many years that he has led.  He loves this game, but it's clear that his passion is to support the players and the community.  Coach Fisher-Rohde can be found at tournaments giving his new players a tour of the facility while reinforcing his teams protocols and expectations.  If he's not with his team, he's often with other coaches offering them his unique brand of insight that can only be described as the wisdom of decades of coaching.  He takes all things in stride and as such, is a role model for all coaches.  He maneuvers the struggles of chess coaching with an admirable smile and affable method.  

     Recently, Coach Fisher-Rohde has taken on hosting tournaments.  Hosting one of the first Sectional tournaments, he put the Palatine Pirate tournament on the schedule and ran with it.  His focus during these events is always one of service to the attending teams and coaches.  We all love a good lunch spread at tournaments, and Coach Fisher-Rohde does not let us down...  He creates a great atmosphere with music playing and his light commentary between rounds.  This season, forced to move that tournament online, he worked with his administration to make the Palatine Pirate a fundraiser for his school's charitable food pantry that provides struggling students with the basics they need.  This is a perfect example of the generosity that Sean Fisher-Rohde embodies.

     This season, Coach Fisher-Rohde was an integral part of developing the online conference and tournament tools with Erik Czerwin.  Hours of phone calls, text messages late into the night, and even Zoom calls at all hours of the day, he served as the idea-machine behind the procedures and protocols for the conference tools and online tournaments.  His efforts continued by helping run and organize the 2020 online coaches clinic.  His videos were instrumental in helping drive this season forward, giving tutorials for coaches who needed to learn online tools quickly.

     Coach Fisher-Rohde has served the community as a steward at the IHSA tournament, as a representative on the Advisory Board, and as a leader/representative of the MSL conference.  His MSL Conference efforts have kept one of the most competitive conferences afloat and running.  More importantly, though, his example has led many other coaches to serve both the conference and the larger chess community.

     Sean Fisher-Rohde is, simply put, one of the driving forces behind the ICCA efforts.  He is worthy of our gratitude and our recognition.  Thank you, coach, for all your efforts.

2021 Nominees:

2020 - Patrick Latortue (Orland Park-Sandburg)

     I can say that Coach Latortue embodies everything that a chess coach should be.  He dedicates himself fully to his team and to chess at large.  He has organized and hosted a staple tournament of the early season for ten years; while this is challenging on any level, he literally sleeps at the school to make it happen.  He extracts excellence from his players with his friendly manner and quiet style of pushing the players to push themselves.  Sandburg high school's record exemplifies that excellence, steadily finishing in the top 30 (often higher!) at State and always near the top of every tournament (5 or more every season).  Any coach that knows Patrick knows that he has a smile to weather any storm.  His presence as a steward at the State series and bunches of Saturday tournaments is always a welcome sight because his quiet example of excellence seeps into every corner of the room, raising the bar for everyone involved.  His unofficial mentorship has helped foster new coaches every year.  By example and friendship, he leads other coaches in their teams, their management, their stewarding, and their lives. 

     Coach Patrick Latortue is a monument to the IHSA/ICCA chess experience.  To play chess in this arena is to benefit from his efforts.  Players, coaches, stewards... Everyone can learn from his example, and he is an example we can all be proud of.

2020 Nominees:

2019 - Phil Bratta (Stillman Valley High School)

Phil Bratta has coached IHSA chess at Stillman Valley since 1980.  In his tenure Phil has guided his Chess program to three 1A State championships.   He has been a friend and a mentor to myself and other coaches within the Northern Illinois Chess League where he is currently head of our West Division. What I have taken from Phil is that trophies and other accolades are secondary to the relationships that you build with your players and other coaches.   Players know they will be treated well under Coach Phil and I believe that is why he is able to field large squads and competitive teams year after year.   Phil and his teams who were part of the original Illinois State Chess tournament have paved the way for current coaches and players to enjoy the largest State tournament held in the United States.  Despite previous nominations Phil has yet to win ICCA Coach of the year.  Stillman Valley has once again had a quality season in conference play and will enter the State tournament as a top contender for another 1A State title.

Further, Phil has done all of the above while coaching at a school that has limited resources and is far outside the collar Chicago area.  Stillman Valley has been a recognized program for almost 40 years due to Coach Bratta's efforts.  He has kept the NICL Conference going through more decades than many coaches have been alive.  Without his calm, driving presence, the NICL would not be the same.  Considering his amazing success with a small school, his dedication to chess in a rural area, his development of his players, and his continued participation in IHSA Chess, I can think of no other coach more deserving of this title than coach Phil Bratta.

2019 Nominees:

2018 - Don Porzio (Aurora - Illinois Math & Science Academy)

Don Porzio has been absolutely crucial in running and maintaining the Far Side Suburban Conference since its inception 16 years ago. He carefully maintains a website which keeps all members up to date on team and individual data. His proficiency in leading the conference is more than matched by his enthusiasm for students playing Chess. His enthusiasm for Chess and frankly kids in general is absolutely infectious. Through his hard work and attitude, he has brought an honor, pageantry, and a fun sense of importance to this activity. He makes being a coach in the Far Side Suburban Chess Conference a joy. He is an incomparable advocate for this competitive event as well as an essential resource for all other coaches with regards to rules and coaching strategies. At our conference tournament, Don happily runs around all day to pair NINE tournaments that are running simultaneously. Our conference wishes him all the best in retirement and are all thrilled about his triumphant State Championship in 2017. We, the coaches of the Far Side Suburban Chess Conference, wish Don Porzio the best of luck for this award as we all feel he is more than deserving. Don has been taking care of his team and all the teams in our conference FSSC- treasurer, secretary, web address, scheduling etc.  He will be retiring this year, and really think he deserves this honor.  He has been a wonderful mentor, and I cannot see anyone else giving as much to the game of chess.

2018 Nominees:

2017 - Jeff DiOrio (Naperville North)

Jeff DiOrio’s dedication to chess at both Naperville North High School and the Naperville community is incredible and admirable. Even more impressive than 9 straight DVC titles and a state title is Jeff’s ability to create a positive and inviting atmosphere that people want to be around. Jeff’s focus was to make chess a space where people would want to come hang out, wanting chess to be the best part of everyone’s day. Every player on his team is given the opportunity to continually hone their skills. He has developed a program that is sure to deliver talent for years to come. Jeff is fearless and instills confidence in his team. He constantly convinces his team they can compete with anyone. This was seen two years ago when he guided his “underdog” team to a state championship. Beyond Naperville North, Jeff has created chess programs in local elementary schools, hosted chess summer camps, and directed many different tournaments. Often kids who fell in love with Jeff’s chess programs stay with it and become part of their high school teams across the DVC. Jeff’s commitment will lead to future success. If there is one person who truly deserves this award, it is none other than Jeff DiOrio.

2017 Nominees:

2016 - Pablo Alvarez (Highland Park)

No coach in the state has worked harder than Pablo Alvarez this year. His team has won more varsity matches than any team in the state. His dedication, passion, and sacrifice for his kids has been evident week after week as Highland Park has attended NINE tournaments this year. When I once asked him why, he told me his players wanted to get better and compete more. What I have seen is a leader who has taught his players a work ethic though modeling and striving to compete. He never backs down from a challenge. His team has responded over the last four years to get better week after week while playing the best. His senior-laden team is polite, friendly, and shows immense sportsmanship. This blue collar work ethic is obvious in his diverse team comes from all backgrounds. He doesn’t have just the AP kids and self-motivated kids; his diverse team crosses socio-economic and racial lines into a top ten team in the state that cares about and mentors each other. He hosted tournaments that attracted middle school students from around that area that feed into many local high schools, not just Highland Park. Pablo’s tireless effort and dedication to the game of chess is motivational to other coaches and players around the state. He has mentored other coaches in the conference and has been a sounding board for ideas. The relationship he has with his players is unique. They believe in him and follow not wanting to disappoint him. Pablo’s father-like approach has helped mold his players into men. He is a true role model for them.

2016 Nominees:

2015 - Coach Joel Penne (Sterling HS)

Joel Penne is truly a players’ coach, and well deserving of receiving the award of coach of the year. Sterling joined the NICL only 4 or 5 years ago and has now won the conference twice in a row. He has a great program with a devoted following. Joel has built a very solid program at Sterling High School. He is always encouraging his players to be the best and works with them to improve their skills. Joel is always working with fellow coaches to improve the quality of chess in the Northern Illinois Chess League. Joel has worked hard to integrate the chess team and elementary school into a comprehensive chess community. And where a lot of us struggle to keep competitive teams Joel has built a team with 30 members. His teams are relentless players, close team members, and always striving to improve. His players are solid fundamentally and exhibit great sportsmanship. They get these qualities from his excellent coaching. Joel is also instrumental in a leadership role within our Conference; he's become a fixture not only in the NICL but around the state. Joel assumes responsibility with the running and organizing of not only his team but team tournaments and conference scheduling. Joel is an asset to his team and the league. Winning isn't everything, but for Sterling teams it just follows naturally from Coach Penne's leadership.

2015 Nominees:

2014 - Dylan Canavan (Hinsdale Central HS)

3 Reasons Why Mr. Canavan deserves to be the Coach of the Year:

I am glad to have been able to call Mr. Canavan my coach.

2014 Nominees:

2013 - Fred Beilfuss (Wheaton-Warrenville South HS)

Throughout his career Fred Beilfuss has shown unbelievable commitment to high school students and chess. After retiring from coaching athletics, Fred started a chess club at Wheaton Warrenville South High School in 1993. Since the DuPage Valley Conference schools did not have chess programs, his early chess teams traveled great distances to play in the Bronze Division of the West Suburban Conference. They were Champions in 1997, 1998, and 1999. In 2000 Fred personally developed by-laws and started play in the DVC. He organized a dual meet schedule and created a DVC tournament for all schools in the conference. He has been the sole tournament director and record keeper for the DVC ever since. His teams were Champions of the DVC for the first 9 years. In fact, his teams never even lost a conference dual meet for the first 7 years in DVC play. As the DVC chess chairperson, Fred has represented the DVC well at the IHSA State Chess Pairing Meeting and Tournament for almost 15 years. Recently Fred completed his appointment to the IHSA Advisory Board for Chess where he continued to increase his positive impact on kids. He is respectfully known as “The Grandfather” of DVC chess. As a former board 1 for Fred’s teams, I can honestly say that he has changed my life through chess. He taught me how to win with humility, lose with dignity, and how to push myself towards my goals with reckless abandon. But most importantly he showed me that there is no limit to the impact you can have on other people if you have passion for what you do and a good heart to match. He personally inspired me to go into education, help kids achieve their dreams, and use chess to better lives. For that, I am forever indebted. To me Fred is more than coach of the year; he is the coach of a lifetime.

2013 Nominees:

2012 - Erik Czerwin (Marengo Community High School) - Now Rockford, Guilford HS

In a short amount of time Erik has developed a dynamic program at Marengo. Their players are not just well trained but great sports. Erik has also taken over leadership of our Conference encouraging and helping new schools to enter into the wonderful world of Scholastic Chess. Erik also runs a great Wiki site dedicated to our conference and chess.He writes a chess blog on high school chess for Wholesale Chess. He also has helped to expand Chess in the community sponsoring and Open Chess Night as well as reaching out to the local Elementary Schools. The most important thing that Erik has done is that he has reached out to many kids at his school for whom chess has become more than chess and has helped them in their overall lives. Erik has truly used chess to reach kids and help them use chess to grow as individuals.

2012 Nominees:

2011 - Kevin Dailey (Lincoln-Way Central, New Lenox)

I retired from teaching and coaching chess in June of 2011. I was asked by my principal at Central if I would continue to coach the chess team after I retired. After much consideration, I chose not to continue to do something I so ardently enjoy. My reasoning was two-fold. First, I was not certain I would still be living in the area. And second, I thought it better to let a current, if not younger teacher, take the reins and lead the team. I have been working with a good candidate for the position of Central's chess coach and feel certain that that I am leaving the team in worthy hands. I also plan to help the new coach in any way I can next year. My only involvement with the high school chess and the team I coached for many years will be to remain a loyal fan.

2011 Nominees:

2010 - George McGuire (Hinsdale South H.S., Darien) 

2009 - Jerry Parker (Heyworth H.S.) 

Heyworth is a member of the ECICL, which is a very competitive league in Central Illinois.  Jerry always manages to get several students to come out for chess.  In a school of just over 300, he manages to get 20 students or more to partake in the chess team.  Not only do these students play chess, but they are generally very well taught.  Jerry teaches them strategies and openings and does a great job of encouraging a love of the game.  In addition to being a great coach for his team, Jerry is also a great peer for other coaches.  He is always willing to help solve problems during a match or a tournament, and he knows the rules so well, that people automatically defer to him on situations.  Jerry never comes across as abrasive or stand-offish.  He is always willing to help whenever he can.  Jerry has done a great job of building a successful program at Heyworth.  No coach works harder to keep chess going in their building than Jerry.

2008 - Mike Neenan (Glenbard North H.S., Carol Stream) 

A Player's Coach:  Mike Neenan is completing his ninth year as head chess coach at Glenbard North high school in Carol Stream and has earned the respect and admiration of the coaching community statewide. Mike has had phenomenal participation levels since starting the program and has maintained high membership on the chess team although he has had virtually no help during that time. Mike often has 35-40 players at practice and has regularly brought 20-25 players to tournaments through the years. Mike is careful to keep chess "fun" but is a conscientious teacher of chess always taking notes on games his players have had and going through them later with players. He has become known as "the guy with the clipboard".  Mike's teams through the years have been more than competitive winning the DuPage Valley Conference Chess Championship in 2007 and finishing in the top 12 teams statewide 3 times. Mike's players typically come to Glenbard North with little or no tournament experience.  Mike has been an active member of the ICCA and served on the IHSA Chess Advisory Board for 3 years. He has been the DuPage Valley Conference Chair and tournament host for two years. Mike has also been a steward at the IHSA State Team Tournament for five years and a "regular" at the state pairing meeting during that time.  Regrettably, Mike will be retiring from his coaching duties this year but plans on staying active in the chess community. He will be sorely missed.

2007 - Kevin Bachler (Maine South H.S., Park Ridge) 

2006 - Al McWilliams (Glenbard South H.S., Glen Ellyn)

We normally have over 30 teams at the Raider Chess Tournament in the middle of January. It is a perfect tournament to get ready for the IHSA state chess tournament. We have open sections for elementary students, middle school students, high school students that do not play on the top eight boards and even an open for adults.The Lombard Bible Church allows us to practice on Friday nights from 7-9pm. Everyone is welcome to drop by and play throughout the summer to keep their skills sharp. We play every Fri. in June, July and August.

2005 - Michael J. Corey (Lincoln-Way East H.S., New Lenox) 

2004 - Sean Bradley (St. Ignatius H.S., Chicago) 

2003 - Harry Kyriazes (Niles North H.S., Skokie) 

2002 - Sam Corbin (Georgetown-Ridge Farm H.S.) 

2001 - Chris Merli (University H.S., Urbana)

Dr. Merli Coaches the University High School Chess Team from Urbana which has won the state championship on 9 different occasions despite the fact that the school’s enrollment is only 250. He also gives private lessons in his home and is actively involved with scholastic chess in the downstate region. Dr. Merli currently serves on the ICCA Board, is the Chief Director for the State High School Championship and works at many of the national championships as a director. His advice to other coaches “The best teams do not need to come from the biggest schools and they do not need the greatest coach, the best team is the one with the most dedicated players.”

2000 - George Beaver (Thornwood H.S.)

1999 - Ken Lewandowski (Evanston Township H.S.)

I retired from Evanston in 2009 and have been teaching some science classes at various colleges in the Chicago Area. I have kept in touch with IHSA Chess by helping out the ETHS Team and Stewarding at the State Tournament. This coming season I will again be the Head Coach for Evanston so I will be seen at many tournaments during the year. Retirement has offered me the time to further develop my overall board game playing hobby.

1998 - Michael Mayfield (Downers Grove South H.S.)

After retiring in 2004 from 32 years teaching and coaching, I took a four year break from chess and only attended the IHSA State Team Tourney as a steward. In 2008 I moved to South Carolina and began to play in a local club and attend weekend tournaments and rediscovered the love of the game a player and not as a coach. My USCF rating has dropped as I attend national tournaments but I am having so much fun playing again. Chess is a life-long activity and there is always room for improvement.

1997 - Garrett Scott (University H.S., Normal) 

1996 - Don Deakin (Bloom Trail H.S.)