Scholastic chess in the Bloomington-Normal area dates back at least to the early 1960s. Bloomington High School had a strong team and competed against Illinois State University, but we know of no other inter-school competition from that period. This changed in the late 1960s, when several elementary school clubs were formed in Bloomington and played against each other. By then, the Bloomington High School team was also competing in the state high school championship.

Several county-wide tournaments for elementary and high school kids were organized in the early 1970s. Attendance was approximately a hundred. The success of those tournaments led to a series of smaller USCF-rated youth tournaments. Then came a dormant period from 1975 to 1986, when only University High in Normal was competing in the high school championship, which by then had been taken over by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA).

In the fall of 1986, a club was formed at the Oakland School in Bloomington by Garrett Scott, a legend in Illinois scholastic chess who remains active. Garrett took his team to the state elementary championship the following year in East Peoria. The team enjoyed some success there and decided to try the Elementary Nationals in Terre Haute, Indiana. There was local publicity, and other schools took note. There followed, in the next couple of years, school clubs in Stevenson, Bent, Centennial and Bloomington Jr. High in Bloomington and Metcalf, Colene Hoose and Glenn in Normal. Five of those seven clubs were headed by teachers, and the others by parents. The Martin Luther King Tournament was founded in 1988 and has grown from approximately 150 players to more than 300 today. The number of clubs varies somewhat from year to year, but there have been as many as 20 clubs in a given season who enter players in outside tournaments.

In August of 2001, several local chess leaders formed the Bloomington-Normal Area Scholastic Chess (BNASC) organization ( BNASC is dedicated to promoting the game through the sponsorship of tournaments, educational events, and other related chess activities for kids in grades K-12. In August of 2004, BNASC was granted 501(c)(3) status. The BNASC Board has grown to 20 members, most of whom are coaches and school chess club facilitators. It meets monthly to prepare for local and state tournaments, assist local school clubs, and plan new programs. It runs approximately seven regional K-8 tournaments from December through March, most of them during January and February. Many local players also participate in the two major statewide tournaments (the K-8 championship and the “All-Grade”) and some attend national tournaments. After a period of rapid growth, BNASC has a stable and flourishing program.

BNASC hopes to have a chess club in every school in the Bloomington/Normal Area, up to fifteen miles from our city borders. We presently have about 20 K-8 clubs. The model varies from school to school. Clubs tend to be as strong, as gauged by their competitive success, as their leaders make them. Almost all the clubs have some sort of instruction. There is no uniform format for club organization or instructional model that covers all the clubs. High school teams, including Bloomington, Heyworth, Normal Community, Olympia (Stanford) and University HS (Normal) compete in the IHSA state championship tournament.

BNASC operates on three core principles: 1. Kids Come First! 2. Teamwork! 3. We are all here to have fun!

Kids Come First! BNASC is committed to ensuring that kids have an enjoyable and safe learning experience. Our goals are to help kids develop their chess skill and learn good sportsmanship. We share with them the thrill of victory, and encourage them if they experience the agony of defeat.

Teamwork! Local chess leaders, parents, coaches, facilitators, teachers, and other organizations are committed to working together. We have friendly competition, but we work as a team to serve the kids. An overall environment of cooperation among the adults who run the programs has been a key to our success. An example of community teamwork is the financial support of State Farm Insurance, through its Good Neighbors Grant Program. This program helps chess programs and other not-for-profit organizations by encouraging State Farm employees to volunteer in their communities. When an employee volunteers 40 hours or more during a given year to a particular organization, State Farm then helps the organization additionally with a $500 contribution. Because State Farm is based in Bloomington and is the area’s largest employer, almost every school team in the area, as well as BNASC itself, benefit from this outstanding program.

We are all here to have fun! Working on a project or serving others can be stressful and time consuming. We work hard, but as a predominately volunteer organization, we also laugh! There is a joy in serving and conversing with one another. Our goal is to have both kids and our program leaders have a memorable, enjoyable experience.