Coach of the Year
The ICCA Coach of the Year is selected each year by a vote of ICCA members from a field of nominations. Nominations are submitted from other coaches, students, faculty, and parents in Illinois chess programs. All ICCA coaches are eligible for nominations.
Coaches honored by the ICCA Coach of the Year award will only be so honored once in their career, even though some coaches’ success merit selection several times. ICCA Coach of the Year honorees demonstrate dedication to chess beyond their team and contribute to the Illinois chess community at large. Coaches earning this award have demonstrated contributions to the Illinois chess community over a period of years. When making a submission, please consider the following variety of factors:
- team success at chess tournaments, conference play, and IHSA State Final series
- contributions in chess to their conference, region, and state;
- improvement and loyalty of their players;
- additional efforts in chess.
A nomination is to include one paragraph description of the reasons the nominee should be selected as Coach of the Year (please limit your submission paragraph to no more than 300 words; the ICCA staff reserves the right to edit nominations over 300 words). To nominate a coach, fill out the Nomination Form below. If you have questions, please e-mail the ICCA Secretary.
Voting for the Coach of the Year takes place during the first day of tournament play at the IHSA State Chess Tournament. Ballots are collected through the end of Round 4.
ICCA Chess Coaches of the Year
1996 - present
2019 - Phil Bratta (Stillman Valley High School)
Phil Bratta has coached IHSA chess at Stillman Valley since 1980. In his tenure Phil has guided his Chess program to three 1A State championships. He has been a friend and a mentor to myself and other coaches within the Northern Illinois Chess League where he is currently head of our West Division. What I have taken from Phil is that trophies and other accolades are secondary to the relationships that you build with your players and other coaches. Players know they will be treated well under Coach Phil and I believe that is why he is able to field large squads and competitive teams year after year. Phil and his teams who were part of the original Illinois State Chess tournament have paved the way for current coaches and players to enjoy the largest State tournament held in the United States. Despite previous nominations Phil has yet to win ICCA Coach of the year. Stillman Valley has once again had a quality season in conference play and will enter the State tournament as a top contender for another 1A State title.
Further, Phil has done all of the above while coaching at a school that has limited resources and is far outside the collar Chicago area. Stillman Valley has been a recognized program for almost 40 years due to Coach Bratta's efforts. He has kept the NICL Conference going through more decades than many coaches have been alive. Without his calm, driving presence, the NICL would not be the same. Considering his amazing success with a small school, his dedication to chess in a rural area, his development of his players, and his continued participation in IHSA Chess, I can think of no other coach more deserving of this title than coach Phil Bratta.
2018 - Don Porzio (Aurora - Illinois Math & Science Academy)
Don Porzio has been absolutely crucial in running and maintaining the Far Side Suburban Conference since its inception 16 years ago. He carefully maintains a website which keeps all members up to date on team and individual data. His proficiency in leading the conference is more than matched by his enthusiasm for students playing Chess. His enthusiasm for Chess and frankly kids in general is absolutely infectious. Through his hard work and attitude, he has brought an honor, pageantry, and a fun sense of importance to this activity. He makes being a coach in the Far Side Suburban Chess Conference a joy. He is an incomparable advocate for this competitive event as well as an essential resource for all other coaches with regards to rules and coaching strategies. At our conference tournament, Don happily runs around all day to pair NINE tournaments that are running simultaneously. Our conference wishes him all the best in retirement and are all thrilled about his triumphant State Championship in 2017. We, the coaches of the Far Side Suburban Chess Conference, wish Don Porzio the best of luck for this award as we all feel he is more than deserving. Don has been taking care of his team and all the teams in our conference FSSC- treasurer, secretary, web address, scheduling etc. He will be retiring this year, and really think he deserves this honor. He has been a wonderful mentor, and I cannot see anyone else giving as much to the game of chess.
2017 - Jeff DiOrio (Naperville North)
Jeff DiOrio’s dedication to chess at both Naperville North High School and the Naperville community is incredible and admirable. Even more impressive than 9 straight DVC titles and a state title is Jeff’s ability to create a positive and inviting atmosphere that people want to be around. Jeff’s focus was to make chess a space where people would want to come hang out, wanting chess to be the best part of everyone’s day. Every player on his team is given the opportunity to continually hone their skills. He has developed a program that is sure to deliver talent for years to come. Jeff is fearless and instills confidence in his team. He constantly convinces his team they can compete with anyone. This was seen two years ago when he guided his “underdog” team to a state championship. Beyond Naperville North, Jeff has created chess programs in local elementary schools, hosted chess summer camps, and directed many different tournaments. Often kids who fell in love with Jeff’s chess programs stay with it and become part of their high school teams across the DVC. Jeff’s commitment will lead to future success. If there is one person who truly deserves this award, it is none other than Jeff DiOrio.
2016 - Pablo Alvarez (Highland Park)
No coach in the state has worked harder than Pablo Alvarez this year. His team has won more varsity matches than any team in the state. His dedication, passion, and sacrifice for his kids has been evident week after week as Highland Park has attended NINE tournaments this year. When I once asked him why, he told me his players wanted to get better and compete more. What I have seen is a leader who has taught his players a work ethic though modeling and striving to compete. He never backs down from a challenge. His team has responded over the last four years to get better week after week while playing the best. His senior-laden team is polite, friendly, and shows immense sportsmanship. This blue collar work ethic is obvious in his diverse team comes from all backgrounds. He doesn’t have just the AP kids and self-motivated kids; his diverse team crosses socio-economic and racial lines into a top ten team in the state that cares about and mentors each other. He hosted tournaments that attracted middle school students from around that area that feed into many local high schools, not just Highland Park. Pablo’s tireless effort and dedication to the game of chess is motivational to other coaches and players around the state. He has mentored other coaches in the conference and has been a sounding board for ideas. The relationship he has with his players is unique. They believe in him and follow not wanting to disappoint him. Pablo’s father-like approach has helped mold his players into men. He is a true role model for them.
2015 - Coach Joel Penne (Sterling HS)
Joel Penne is truly a players’ coach, and well deserving of receiving the award of coach of the year. Sterling joined the NICL only 4 or 5 years ago and has now won the conference twice in a row. He has a great program with a devoted following. Joel has built a very solid program at Sterling High School. He is always encouraging his players to be the best and works with them to improve their skills. Joel is always working with fellow coaches to improve the quality of chess in the Northern Illinois Chess League. Joel has worked hard to integrate the chess team and elementary school into a comprehensive chess community. And where a lot of us struggle to keep competitive teams Joel has built a team with 30 members. His teams are relentless players, close team members, and always striving to improve. His players are solid fundamentally and exhibit great sportsmanship. They get these qualities from his excellent coaching. Joel is also instrumental in a leadership role within our Conference; he's become a fixture not only in the NICL but around the state. Joel assumes responsibility with the running and organizing of not only his team but team tournaments and conference scheduling. Joel is an asset to his team and the league. Winning isn't everything, but for Sterling teams it just follows naturally from Coach Penne's leadership.
2014 - Dylan Canavan (Hinsdale Central HS)
3 Reasons Why Mr. Canavan deserves to be the Coach of the Year:
- The commitment and hard work he has put into HC Chess Team is reflected by the fact that we have been relatively successful at the State Tournament the past several years: he has established a tradition of excellence. Mr. Canavan learned to play the game himself in order to be a better mentor to the players on the team and to ensure the team's continued success.
- Mr. Canavan has contributed to the Illinois Chess scene by serving on the IHSA Chess Advisory Committee. He championed for changes during the State Championship that would alleviate problems for both players and coaches, problems involving communication and playing conditions.
- He has taught us not only chess lessons but life lessons. Above all, he shows us how the skills you learn from chess (decision-making, patience, etc.) can be applied to our everyday lives. More importantly, he taught of high schoolers how to go grocery shopping at Nationals.
I am glad to have been able to call Mr. Canavan my coach.
2013 - Fred Beilfuss (Wheaton-Warrenville South HS)
Throughout his career Fred Beilfuss has shown unbelievable commitment to high school students and chess. After retiring from coaching athletics, Fred started a chess club at Wheaton Warrenville South High School in 1993. Since the DuPage Valley Conference schools did not have chess programs, his early chess teams traveled great distances to play in the Bronze Division of the West Suburban Conference. They were Champions in 1997, 1998, and 1999. In 2000 Fred personally developed by-laws and started play in the DVC. He organized a dual meet schedule and created a DVC tournament for all schools in the conference. He has been the sole tournament director and record keeper for the DVC ever since. His teams were Champions of the DVC for the first 9 years. In fact, his teams never even lost a conference dual meet for the first 7 years in DVC play. As the DVC chess chairperson, Fred has represented the DVC well at the IHSA State Chess Pairing Meeting and Tournament for almost 15 years. Recently Fred completed his appointment to the IHSA Advisory Board for Chess where he continued to increase his positive impact on kids. He is respectfully known as “The Grandfather” of DVC chess. As a former board 1 for Fred’s teams, I can honestly say that he has changed my life through chess. He taught me how to win with humility, lose with dignity, and how to push myself towards my goals with reckless abandon. But most importantly he showed me that there is no limit to the impact you can have on other people if you have passion for what you do and a good heart to match. He personally inspired me to go into education, help kids achieve their dreams, and use chess to better lives. For that, I am forever indebted. To me Fred is more than coach of the year; he is the coach of a lifetime.
2012 - Erik Czerwin (Marengo Community High School) - Now Rockford, Guilford HS
In a short amount of time Erik has developed a dynamic program at Marengo. Their players are not just well trained but great sports. Erik has also taken over leadership of our Conference encouraging and helping new schools to enter into the wonderful world of Scholastic Chess. Erik also runs a great Wiki site dedicated to our conference and chess.He writes a chess blog on high school chess for Wholesale Chess. He also has helped to expand Chess in the community sponsoring and Open Chess Night as well as reaching out to the local Elementary Schools. The most important thing that Erik has done is that he has reached out to many kids at his school for whom chess has become more than chess and has helped them in their overall lives. Erik has truly used chess to reach kids and help them use chess to grow as individuals.
2011 - Kevin Daily (Lincoln-Way Central, New Lenox)
I retired from teaching and coaching chess in June of 2011. I was asked by my principal at Central if I would continue to coach the chess team after I retired. After much consideration, I chose not to continue to do something I so ardently enjoy. My reasoning was two-fold. First, I was not certain I would still be living in the area. And second, I thought it better to let a current, if not younger teacher, take the reins and lead the team. I have been working with a good candidate for the position of Central's chess coach and feel certain that that I am leaving the team in worthy hands. I also plan to help the new coach in any way I can next year. My only involvement with the high school chess and the team I coached for many years will be to remain a loyal fan.
2010 - George McGuire (Hinsdale South H.S., Darien)
2009 - Jerry Parker (Heyworth H.S.)
Heyworth is a member of the ECICL, which is a very competitive league in Central Illinois. Jerry always manages to get several students to come out for chess. In a school of just over 300, he manages to get 20 students or more to partake in the chess team. Not only do these students play chess, but they are generally very well taught. Jerry teaches them strategies and openings and does a great job of encouraging a love of the game. In addition to being a great coach for his team, Jerry is also a great peer for other coaches. He is always willing to help solve problems during a match or a tournament, and he knows the rules so well, that people automatically defer to him on situations. Jerry never comes across as abrasive or stand-offish. He is always willing to help whenever he can. Jerry has done a great job of building a successful program at Heyworth. No coach works harder to keep chess going in their building than Jerry.
2008 - Mike Neenan (Glenbard North H.S., Carol Stream)
A Player's Coach: Mike Neenan is completing his ninth year as head chess coach at Glenbard North high school in Carol Stream and has earned the respect and admiration of the coaching community statewide. Mike has had phenomenal participation levels since starting the program and has maintained high membership on the chess team although he has had virtually no help during that time. Mike often has 35-40 players at practice and has regularly brought 20-25 players to tournaments through the years. Mike is careful to keep chess "fun" but is a conscientious teacher of chess always taking notes on games his players have had and going through them later with players. He has become known as "the guy with the clipboard". Mike's teams through the years have been more than competitive winning the DuPage Valley Conference Chess Championship in 2007 and finishing in the top 12 teams statewide 3 times. Mike's players typically come to Glenbard North with little or no tournament experience. Mike has been an active member of the ICCA and served on the IHSA Chess Advisory Board for 3 years. He has been the DuPage Valley Conference Chair and tournament host for two years. Mike has also been a steward at the IHSA State Team Tournament for five years and a "regular" at the state pairing meeting during that time. Regrettably, Mike will be retiring from his coaching duties this year but plans on staying active in the chess community. He will be sorely missed.
2007 - Kevin Bachler (Maine South H.S., Park Ridge)
2006 - Al McWilliams (Glenbard South H.S., Glen Ellyn)
We normally have over 30 teams at the Raider Chess Tournament in the middle of January. It is a perfect tournament to get ready for the IHSA state chess tournament. We have open sections for elementary students, middle school students, high school students that do not play on the top eight boards and even an open for adults.The Lombard Bible Church allows us to practice on Friday nights from 7-9pm. Everyone is welcome to drop by and play throughout the summer to keep their skills sharp. We play every Fri. in June, July and August.
2005 - Michael J. Corey (Lincoln-Way East H.S., New Lenox)
2004 - Sean Bradley (St. Ignatius H.S., Chicago)
2003 - Harry Kyriazes (Niles North H.S., Skokie)
2002 - Sam Corbin (Georgetown-Ridge Farm H.S.)
2001 - Chris Merli (University H.S., Urbana)
Dr. Merli Coaches the University High School Chess Team from Urbana which has won the state championship on 9 different occasions despite the fact that the school’s enrollment is only 250. He also gives private lessons in his home and is actively involved with scholastic chess in the downstate region. Dr. Merli currently serves on the ICCA Board, is the Chief Director for the State High School Championship and works at many of the national championships as a director. His advice to other coaches “The best teams do not need to come from the biggest schools and they do not need the greatest coach, the best team is the one with the most dedicated players.”
2000 - George Beaver (Thornwood H.S.)
1999 - Ken Lewandowski (Evanston Township H.S.)
I retired from Evanston in 2009 and have been teaching some science classes at various colleges in the Chicago Area. I have kept in touch with IHSA Chess by helping out the ETHS Team and Stewarding at the State Tournament. This coming season I will again be the Head Coach for Evanston so I will be seen at many tournaments during the year. Retirement has offered me the time to further develop my overall board game playing hobby.
1998 - Michael Mayfield (Downers Grove South H.S.)
After retiring in 2004 from 32 years teaching and coaching, I took a four year break from chess and only attended the IHSA State Team Tourney as a steward. In 2008 I moved to South Carolina and began to play in a local club and attend weekend tournaments and rediscovered the love of the game again...as a player and not as a coach. My USCF rating has dropped as I attend national tournaments but I am having so much fun playing again. Chess is a life-long activity and there is always room for improvement.
1997 - Garrett Scott (University H.S., Normal)
1996 - Don Deakin (Bloom Trail H.S.)