Gilbert elementary schools, known for their powerhouse chess clubs anchored by parent volunteers, will start a new era this year with a professional vendor based in north Phoenix.
Chess Emporium, a forprofit chess group that operates outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Chess Federation, will bring in its own coaches this August and run the clubs through the Gilbert Unified School District Community Education Department.
Some chess parents praised the move Tuesday night at a governing board meeting. But others in the chess community lamented the loss of local control.
“In my opinion, the wrong group was chosen for chess,” said Rod Plumb, the father of three chess players at Gilbert’s GPS Traditional Academy.
Volunteers with the Gilbert Parents Chess Alliance, which submitted its own bid for the contract, filed an appeal Monday that challenges the board’s June 12 decision.
Assistant superintendent Clyde Dangerfield said the district will review the appeal and make a decision within 14 days.
Chess Emporium officials declined to comment.
Mesquite High School chess coach Michael Fitch joined the concerned chess parents Tuesday. He grew up playing chess in Gilbert, and his parents were among those who helped recruit coaches in the 1990s and build chess programs at every elementary school in the district.
“(The parents chess alliance) has been organizing events in the Gilbert area, staffing the schools, training the coaches and providing opportunities for the coaches to be able to make a living for the past 11 years, at least,” he told the board.
Parent volunteers brought the junior high school national championship to Phoenix Civic Center in 1997, and two years later the U.S. Chess Federation named Gilbert “best in the nation for chess.”
But chess parents have gradually lost control since then.
The Community Education Department took over the chess clubs in 2004 and put the coaches on the district payroll. The parent organization evolved after that into a chess booster that operated monthly tournaments and helped promote scholastic chess.
In April 2006, the organization brought the Arizona Scholastic State Chess Championship to Gilbert, and in January the group hosted the Arizona State Grades Championship.
But the group has also been plagued by infighting. Competing factions have emerged and coaches have quit in frustration.
Gilbert Superintendent Brad Barrett said trying to please all of the factions has proved difficult.
“There’s no one way of thinking,” Barrett said. “We’ve figured that out.”
Even if the parents chess alliance loses its appeal, group leaders say they will continue to operate chess camps, tutoring sessions and monthly U.S. Chess Federation tournaments in Gilbert.
But they’re not counting on Chess Emporium directing many students their way.