Webmaster: Excerpted from the 2010 Final Four Program Guide.
Thousands of children in Brownsville play chess, a phenomenon that started in the classroom of Jose J. Guajardo.
About 1990, the principal of Russell Elementary School assigned Guajardo to teach at-risk fourth grade students. The young teacher was inspired to engage the students through chess by his experience teaching his own precocious son the game, and he proceeded to teach his students as well. Soon, Guajardo’s kids were beating their young teacher.
The Russell Elementary School chess team went on to win seven state championships from 1993-1999.
Guajardo’s accomplishments paved the way for the best-known example of student excellence in chess in Brownsville.
Chess at Morningside Elementary School began in summer 1997 under the leadership of Remy Ferrari, Alfred Molina and Rusty Harwood, who later became the chess program director at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. After a few months of practice and training, Morningside Elementary entered its first tournament in January 1998.
In February 1999, the Morningside students traveled to a regional tournament held a couple of hours away from Brownsville. The students won the tournament. Parents and faculty raised money to send Morningside students to a state tournament in Dallas, where the students won second place.
Soon, plans began for the students to attend a national chess championship in Phoenix, Ariz. Local businesses raised money to supplement state funds, with everyone donating what they could to help get the team to nationals. The Morningside team placed second in the tournament, half a point behind Hunter College Campus Elementary School from New York City.
In the upcoming years, Paredes and Hudson elementary schools, Oliveira and Vela middle schools, and Hanna and Porter high schools have all won national chess championships, led by Paredes’ seven national championships.
Chess has also been competitive at UTB/TSC since its team’s inception in the 2001-2002 school year.
Since spring 2002, UTB/TSC’s chess team has won several state, regional and collegiate championships, and Southwest Collegiate Championships. The team won the National K-12/Collegiate Championships in 2005 and has placed in the final four U.S. schools at the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship.
The university was named Chess College of Year by the U.S. Chess Federation in August 2007.
The chess students placed third in the team’s first appearance at The President’s Cup competition, also known as the “Final Four of College Chess,” in April 2009 in Dallas.
The university has been able to recruit players from throughout the United States, but also Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Uzbekistan. El Paso native and UTB/TSC graduate Nelly Estrada was the team’s first female player when she began playing in spring 2006, and she is now in medical school on a full scholarship. Overall, the team has grown from seven to 19 players.
Program staff has traveled to the Mexican states of Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas to spread interest in chess to students.
For more information about the UTB/TSC chess program, go to www.utb.edu/chess.