Sarah May has been named “2023 Coach of the Year” by Madison City Chess League. CONTRIBUTED

MCCL names Sarah May as ‘2023 Coach of the Year’

MADISON – For volunteering many hours and sharing a learned skill, Sarah May received the “2023 Coach of the Year” honor from Madison City Chess League or MCCL.

“I’m truly honored to receive this award. It would not have been possible without Patrick Dowd who encouraged me to start coaching and Ranae Bartlett who connects and supports MCCL coaches to bring chess to the schools,” May said.

May’s interest in chess started when she was five years old. “My oldest sibling joined a chess club. Soon after, my parents, three brothers and I all picked up playing the game,” May said.

“We played at home together and traveled across the county to compete in national chess tournaments as family vacations,” May said. “I not only enjoyed playing chess but also loved getting to make memories with friends and family at chess club and competitions.”

MCCL does a remarkable job at providing resources to organize opportunities for children, May said. The youth “not only initially get involved in chess but blossom as individuals through coaching and leadership positions.”

May cited chess’ benefits for critical thinking, visualization, focus and sportsmanship. “These life skills are incredibly useful to develop at a young age. The game is a mental puzzle to continue to be challenged and brings people of various backgrounds together over the board, both in person and globally online,” May said.

This atmosphere makes chess appealing, and the game doesn’t ‘get old’ as “friends hang out together to socialize while playing,” May said.

In fall 2021, May connected with MCCL and started coaching at Horizon Elementary School and continues there today. She also coaches girls citywide at chess tournaments and events, along with entrants in All Girls Nationals.

“Supporting girls in chess is close to my heart. Females are the minority of chess players, and I enjoy helping girls connect and embrace their confidence,” May said.

“Madison’s neighboring city of Decatur does not have equal chess activity happening in the schools currently. As a first step to ignite chess in Decatur, I co-launched the Decatur Junior Chess League that offers a citywide program for ages 6-18 years old to learn and play chess together while meeting new people in the community,” May said.

Each event attracts 20 to 40 children. “It’s only the beginning of potential for growing chess interest in the city and mutually benefiting chess tournaments and events happening in Madison,” May said.

“My dad played an integral part in my journey of learning and developing a passion for chess as a kid,” May said. “His motto every time I sat down to play at a chess tournament was to ‘remember to smile and have fun.’ I channel that mindset in coaching,” she said.

Chess lessons are structured to offer both fun and challenges to inspire players to continue improving. “Kids learn best when they are having fun. I focus on recognizing kids’ effort in practicing, playing their best, no matter the result and showing each other good sportsmanship more than focusing on winning and trophies,” May said.

May is proud of Horizon’s players, some of Madison’s best performers. “The students’ diligence in consistent practicing reveals itself in their sharp performances and led them to claim the achievement of ‘2023 Alabama State Elementary Champion’ chess team,” she said.

This year, MCCL is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. May finds it “incredible to hear how much chess has boomed in number of students and schools in that decade. One of my hopes for the next decade ahead is an increase in students stepping into active roles in coaching in schools.”

Currently, schools and players interested in chess outnumber available coaches and teacher sponsors. As one of MCCL’s only female coaches, May hopes for an increase in female coaches to serve as examples and inspire girls.

“I’m a Pacific Northwest native, born and raised in Vancouver, Wash. before heading to college at Iowa State University, where I received my bachelor’s degree in animal science with a minor in insect science and focus in animal nutrition,” May said. “I moved South to Alabama in 2018 when hired as the ectotherm animal caretaker (with) Cook Museum of Natural Science.”

“Did you know a tiger beetle can run so fast its eyes cannot process to keep up, and the beetle’s vision is essentially blind until it stops running to reorient itself?” she said. “I’m fascinated by insects. You can often find me enjoying opportunities educating about insects or in the woods looking for critters.”

“I like to say, ‘When I am 85, I hope to still be playing chess, bowling and hiking, and making artwork to gift to people.’ That way, I will be mentally, physically and creatively active enjoying life,” May said.

For more information about MCCL, visit or Facebook/Madison City Chess League.


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