Checkmate! Burbank-based John Muir Middle School chess club wins state championship – Daily News
Kevin Bulone, coach of the John Muir Middle School Chess Club in Burbank, said there is one term that perfectly characterizes his team’s performance this year.
“When you say checkmate it’s like a big win, that’s what we’ve achieved this year,” Bulone said.
The club won the state championship on March 27-28, taking first place in the Under 600, Under 1000 and Under 1400 categories. The numbers 600, 1000 and 1400 refer to system scores. rating from the United States Chess Federation, which ranks a player’s skill level. The City of Burbank recognized the team with a certificate at the city council meeting on Tuesday, May 18.
John Muir High School has enjoyed success in chess in recent years, although this is the first time they have achieved victories in all three categories. The team took the top spot at the county level in 2020, before COVID-19 shut down most of the country. Bulone credits the children for the success of the team.
“What I attribute to success is the connection between kids and the willingness to want to learn and then practice it,” Bulone said.
However, coach Bulone may not be taking enough credit. Greg Miller, principal of John Muir Middle School, said the chess program has changed dramatically since Bulone took over.
“It really is because of Coach Kevin’s work that this is all possible,” said Miller. “It’s his commitment to the kids and the program that made him successful, and every kid on the team will tell you.”
Miller also spoke about the resilience of the chess team and other students at John Muir Middle School who have had to deal with online learning during the pandemic. Miller said the students and families he had heard of lack the in-person connection that a traditional school year offers children. According to Miller, only 400 of 1,400 students opted for any type of in-person learning after the restrictions were lifted.
The pandemic has also forced chess clubs to change. The State Championship, typically an in-person event, has moved to a fully online format. Players competed against each other on chess.com with their cameras on and both hands visible to discourage cheating via cellphones or written notes. Bulone said the practices were roughly the same with John Muir’s students playing against each other online, once a week.
And the practice that the students did. Arthur Tovamasyan, an eighth-grader who participated in the tournament, said he trained between an hour and a half and two hours a day for the week leading up to the tournament. The practice paid off for Tovamasyan, who went undefeated in the Under 1000 category.
“I felt I deserved it,” Tovamasyan said when asked about his personal success. “But I was still amazed that I was the first.”
Tovamasyan also said he was surprised the team won all three categories and was impressed with the play of his young colleagues.
A total of 14 students participated in the state championship, according to coach Bulone. Of those 14, only one was a girl – the first to represent John Muir in the state championship. Bulone said he hopes to see more women participate in the club in the future.
For now though, John Muir’s side can build on their success, train for the coming season, and hope to check out the competition when the state championship rolls around next year.