History of the ICCA

and IHSA Chess

50th this year, next year, or not until 2024

Mike Zacate, ICCA Founding Coach

You may have noticed the Excel spreadsheet print outs at the IHSA tournament this year giving school records from past years of Team Chess tournaments. You may have been surprised to find they went back 50 years—especially since the cover on the IHSA program was marked as the 43rd year. When the 50th occurs depends on who is counting what.

I became involved in high school chess in the Fall of 1966. My ‘6th’ assignment was Astronomy Club. The superintendent agreed to my trading that assignment to taking over as the Chess Club sponsor. A match was arranged with a nearby school (15 boards each count 1 point) that we won overwhelmingly. The success tempted the club members to accept an invitation to a combined individual-team championship held by the Illinois Chess Association during Christmas vacation. I was disappointed to learn that no team vs team tournament was involved. There was team vs team competition occurring in CPS season dual matches and a chess conference in the northern suburbs at least since the middle 1950s. The Chicago Public Schools had so many schools involved that conference division winners met for a city championship that dated back to at least 1926.

Gary McLammarh (Rockford Guilford) and I discussed the concept of having a multiple school team vs team invitational tournaments at the 1966 ICA Individual/Team Championship. A year later at the same tournament, I learned Rockford Guilford was going to host such a tournament the next month. Upon learning of its success, I decided to pursue holding a team vs team tournament on a state wide basis. Our school superintendent was open to the idea of hosting such a tournament providing approval was obtained from the IHSA. The IHSA offices were then in Chicago so it was convenient to meet with H. David Fry to learn what was required to hold such an event. 

IHSA had restrictions on events involving more than two schools at that time (late 1960s). For a multi-school event to receive IHSA sanction for an event teams could not travel more than 150 miles and had to start at least one hour after the host school’s regular day. Schools from the Peoria area that were interested in participating had to be denied even though they were less than 10 miles beyond the mileage limit. The May, 1968 tournament was consequently named the Northeastern Illinois Championship. The current IHSA state chess tournament series is the descendant of that event and the basis of saying this year was the 50th in the series.

It will be 2018 IHSA Team Chess Championship that will be the 50th that all schools in the state of Illinois could participate in a team chess championship. The IHSA Board of Directors changed sanctions for the starting with the 1968-1969 school year. The increasing number of completed interstate highways led to the dropping of both the start time and travel distance requirements. Thanks to the work of the Evergreen Park H.S. chess players, an invitation for the May, 1969 team chess tournament was sent to every IHSA member school in the state—a practice that would continue through 1974.

The idea from the beginning was to have the IHSA take over the holding of the tournament. Each year coaches were encouraged to petition the IHSA to do so. I learned a lot of coaches were doing it, but attention was paid only when principals submitted such requests. The coaches were asked at the 1973 tournament to have their principals write the IHSA. Enough did that in the Fall the IHSA began exploring adding chess to their championship series. Over the next year procedures were worked out by a committee with Rules and Terms & Conditions being adopted. The first IHSA Team Chess Championship finals was held at Rantoul H.S. in the Spring of 1975. The 50th by that reckoning won’t be until 2024.

IHSA State Chess Team Tournament T-Shirts


1981 Shirt

1982 Shirt


1984 Shirt

1985 Shirt

1986 Shirt

1987 Shirt

1988 Shirt


1990 Shirt

1991 Shirt


1994 Shirt


2007 Shirt


ICCA Historical Data Spreadsheet

ICCA Historical Data

Previous IHSA Rulebooks

IHSA State Chess Team Tournament Videos

"Chess State" documentary

The Chess State documentary is now FREE for download or streaming.  Simply enter code "ChessState" at checkout.  

Chess State is a documentary project about the biggest team chess tournament in the world. In 2014 the Illinois High School Association’s State Chess Tournament had 138 teams participate making Illinois stand far and away from all other state tournaments and exceeding FIDE's Chess Olympics as biggest fixed-board tournament on earth. The next biggest team state tournaments in the U.S. won't have more than 30 teams participate.

Chess State tells the story of how Illinois came to be king of high school chess in the U.S. and unfolds many of the characters who have gained celebrity status because of it.

The website can be found at: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/chessstate