Whitney Young Chess Team Claims First State Title of Pandemic

One star player said she's optimistic about the future of chess for girls following the release of the Netflix show "Queen's Gambit"

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The pandemic put sports on hold for students across the state.

As things start to get back on track, one team is celebrating a big win and something no one has been able to do since March 2020.

The Whitney Young Magnet High School Chess Team was awarded a state championship on Feb. 13. It's the first state title since March 7, 2020, when Fremd High School won the Class 4A girls basketball championship over Lincoln-Way West.

"There’s no other feeling like it," said Daniel Zhang, junior at Whitney Young.

The win over Barrington marks the school's sixth championship in 11 years, making Whitney Young the most successful chess program in Illinois High School Association history.

"I’m just extremely proud of the team," said chess team coach Daniel Hart. "It’s not easy to win a state championship. It’s not easy to win one under these incredibly different circumstances."

The team would typically practice and play tournaments throughout the school year in person. Because of the pandemic, this year, all matches were played virtually, including the state title tournament.

"We were just in the computer lab at our school. Normally we’d be in a huge ballroom with 1,000 some people," said Alexander Ursu, senior at Whitney Young.

To limit online cheating, the students were required to login at their school with a coach present.

The win came down to the final round between Aria Hoesley, a junior, and another female student, each with seconds left on their game clocks. Games are limited to 45 minutes.

"Her board is worth 12 points. Everyone, including her, knew she had to win," said chess team coach Paul Kash. "When Aria was playing her last game, both players were under a minute, like 10 seconds, on their clocks."

Although undefeated throughout the season, Whitney Young was playing as the underdogs in the state championship, since a teammate was disqualified for technical difficulties.

"I played it as best I could, confidently and aggressively. When I was able to pull it out, it was probably one of the most amazing feelings ever," Hoesley said.

Hoesley has been playing chess for 10 years. She said her dad taught her the game. Hoesley said she's optimistic about the future of chess for girls following the release of the Netflix show "Queen's Gambit."

"We’ve never seen so many girls interested in chess," Hoesley said. "Having that show, where it was centered around a female, it’s awesome. There’s not a lot of girls that play chess, and there’s not a lot of girls that stick with chess."

The school's principal is planning a virtual pep rally to celebrate the team's win. Nationals, which are typically held in the spring, have already been canceled due to the pandemic.

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