History of the ICCA

and IHSA Chess

Welcome to the ICCA History page!  This organization has a rich history reaching back into the late 1960s when Mike Zacate started running Board-Weighted team tournaments.  The IHSA State Chess Team Tournament that came out of Mike's efforts has been the core around which unrated, school-based chess programs have grown ever since.   The Illinois Chess Coaches Association is the organization designed to pick up and carry forward that work.

Today, the ICCA continues to develop new programs, new resources, and new events to develop chess coaches, programs, and organizers.  The page below attempts to capture the History of the work done by the coaches of the ICCA.  All of this work is done by folks that are primarily teachers or other professionals donating their time to develop chess talent in their players.  We hope the following page honors the work that hundreds of coaches have put into this organization and the benefits it spreads across the state.

Mike Zacate, the Father of Illinois High School Chess, has a page dedicated to his memory.  Find it by clicking here

Photos courtesy of Betsy Zacate

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.

A bit of history on the Individual Championship...

According to an e-mail exchange with Mike Zacate, January 2018

Hello Mike,

I'm the Glenbard East chess coach and noticed this image (1980 T-shirt) on the ICCA site.  Does this mean the the 1980 chess tournament was held at Glenbard East? Just curious.

Chris Aderhold (Lombard-Glenbard East)



I can give you a quick answer or a long story.

The short version is Mr. Lindsey volunteered to host the 2nd annual IHSA INDIVIDUAL Championships at Glenbard East. The T-short in the picture was designed by him/team and sold at the event to raise funds for the chess program. It was the FIRST T-shirt prepared for either an IHSA chess event or the years from '68-'74 when Evergreen Park organized the high school team championships.

Most are not aware there ever was an IHSA Individual chess championship.The IHSA held them from the '78-'79 season through the '98-'99 school year. Illinois Individual Chess Championships (to the best of my knowledge) were started through the Illinois Chess Association in the early to mid 1960s. Many years at was held at the Gomper's Park Field House in Chicago. While individually paired, team awards were made based on the total of highest the 5 scoring individuals from a school. In the early 1970s, the ICA lost not only access to Gomper's Park as a site, but interest in running the event. (The major organizer, Frank Skoff, had become President of the USCF in addition to teaching at Lake View (Chicago) H.S. so had no time. Richard Verber had become very active in revitalizing Chicago chess including a 7 day a week facility in an office building just off Michigan Ave.holding tournaments on a regular basis, one of which was to take over the Illinois Individual (with team) paired championship. Under his leadership it grew from an event in a small gym with a little over a 100 to the ballroom of a downtown hotel with several hundred (all USCF).

Unfortunately that sequence lasted only about a 1/2 dozen years. The year it died, the IHSA Advisory Chess Committee successfully convinced the IHSA they were the logical ones to continue to hold an event to find the Illinois Individual Champion. The first under the IHSA was held in the '78-'79 school year at Rantoul H.S. (which had also hosted the first IHSA Team Championship in 1974-1975).

Not everyone could just decide to play in the event. In order to qualify there was a two level requirement. There was a scale by the range of points a team scored.  Players had to score a certain amount of points depending on the team score but it was not possible for 6th, 7th, or 8th board players to quality and only players from perfect score teams with perfect scores themselves could made it from the 5th board. Competition in those days was in two classes--both for teams and individuals. Divided (as they were at the time in all sports and activities) into two classes: schools with 750 and more students (AA) and schools with fewer than 750 (A),

By the early 1990s, the IHSA had added so many additional sports and activities each wanting more classes of competition and awards, that the IHSA formed a large Blue-Ribbon panel to standardize how and event could be added, awards, how to determine how many classes, and many other guidelines. Unfortunately, under the new provisions, two unwelcome things happened to chess.. First, the AA & A classes were eliminated meaning all schools regardless of size competed together. For a couple years the Individual tournament continued as a single classification. Unfortunately, the event was held at a time when many players were actively involved in baseball and track, and didn't show for the individual tournament. That led the IHSA to conclude it was not held in high enough esteem by the high school community to continue the event with the last one held in the '93-'94 school year.

In the chess section of the IHSA under the records you can find the winners of the individual championships.

The ICCA stepped in to fill what was perceived to be needed because of the IHSA cut-backs. Coaches paid to become members to support distribution of information (U.S. Mail in those days before e-mail), providing trophies and individual medals to team members in several categories of school sizes (a practice that continues), and starting in the '94-'95 school year an individual tournament to replace the IHSA event using the same criteria for participation (the first and several others held at Bloom Trail H.S.). By the early 2000s, the USCF was holding a National Individual High School Championship to which each state could send only one representative. The ICA & ICCA cooperated for several years by blending and event in which the ICCA champion an a field of top ICA (by USCF ratings) competed in a tournament to see who would represent Illinois. A number of factors made it increasingly difficult to maintain the ICCA event but the ICA continues to determine an Illinois Individual Champion that goes to the National event each year.

Probably more than you wanted to know.

Mike Zacate

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

The SICA was a conference of chess teams that grew to dozens of schools under the direction of Mike Zacate and other coaches who stepped in to lead the conference.  It was the first such conference in the state and was the precursor to the conference system that is in place today.  Below is a collection of data and information from that conference and the early years of Illinois High School chess.  Click on any of the files below to view the spreadsheet.

This information was digitized from boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of paperwork by Coach Stephen Had.

IHSA Chess Team State Championship 2010-Present

This data is kept by Coach Erik Czerwin.  Coach Ken Lewandowski kept a similar sheet, recorded on paper, for many years prior to 2010.

ICCA Chess Team 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

2020-2021 COVID Pandemic Season

The COVID-19 pandemic led to lockdowns shortly after the 2019-20 season ended.  By August 2020, it was clear that playing chess in-person was going to have tremendous challenges and using online tools was the best route forward.  Coach Erik Czerwin developed an online system to run 8-board format tournaments.  Using an online spreadsheet system combined with video-conferencing applications and text-messaging, he ran several tournaments and helped others to learn to use the tool while also developing their own.  That system was designed with the support of Coach Stephen Had.  They shared many phone calls late into the night to write formulas and code to make the system run more smoothly.  Coach Sean Fisher-Rohde helped to develop the protocols and procedures to help the coaches and players understand what to do.  Coach Chris Aderhold ran an online Coaches Clinic to bring all the information together into a training day and videos that coaches could return to when needed.  Coach Mike Campbell used video-conferencing to show coaches how online chess could be unique ways to run practices.  Coach Lucian Bogdan shared with the entire state his Master Your Chess online coaching application.

Coaches all across the state came together to make a chess season possible when the whole world was going through chaos.  This online season culminated in an in-person/online IHSA State Chess Tournament.  Teams played from their home schools under conditions dictated by the required health codes of the day (masks, 6-feet+ apart, etc.).  IHSA chess manager, Raye McDonald, worked with Scott Johnson to develop a system similar to what had been used throughout the season and tailored to the IHSA State Chess Team Championship.  Chris Merli acted as Chief TD, and Coach Drew Hermann acted as a Steward for the event that drew 118 schools playing 8-Board teams, keeping the streak of IHSA State Chess Team Tournaments unbroken.

The Online Chess page remains available with all the resources pulled together for that season.  The videos and other tools that coaches across the state offered to one another to keep the sport going during one of the most difficult years on record.

Coach Erik Czerwin

Coach Erik Czerwin ran the following online events:

Joliet Steelman Tournament - October 10th, 2020, 14 schools

Sandburg Eagle Team Tournament - October 24th, 2020, 17 schools

Evanston Team Tournament - November 7th, 2020, 24 schools

Sterling Invite Tournament - November 14th, 2020, 18 schools

Argo Team Tournament - November 21st, 2020, 26 schools

Bolingbrook Raider Tournament - December 5th, 2020, 34 schools

Palatine Pirate Tournament - December 12th, 2020, 28 schools

Illini Classic Tournament - January 9th, 2021, 24 schools

NICL Conference Tournament - January 16th, 2021, 10 schools

NSCL Conference Tournament - January 23rd, 2021, 14 schools

SPC Conference Tournament - January 30, 2021, 10 schools

Rock River Chess Team Tournament - February 27th, 2021, 14 schools

Other Coaches ran these online events:

Naperville Central Tournament  - January 9th, 2021, 19 schools

MSL Conference Tournament - January 16th, 2021, 12 schools

WSC Conference Tournament - January 23rd, 2021, 8 schools

2020-2021 Online Conference Seasons, managed and organized by coaches all across the state, supported by one another and the ICCA

The Illinois Chess Association keeps its own History page, well worth browsing!