SBHS chess team comes home state champs
A small crowd cheered Monday night as members of the San Benito High School chess team climbed off a bus as the new state champions.
The 17-member team won the district’s first Texas Scholastic Chess Championship in Dallas on Sunday with a victory over Brownsville’s Porter High School and Bellaire High School, the team that reigned five years as the state’s champions.
The team will now move to the national championships in Minneapolis, Minn., in April.
“It’s an honor to be the state champions,” Superintendent Antonio Limon said Monday. “This isn’t something that happened overnight. It’s something we’ve been working on for 10 years to come to fruition.”
San Benito High School finished with 20 points, while Porter and Bellaire each took 17.5 points; Veterans Memorial Academy finished with 13.5 in the two-day tournament.
“The accomplishment is huge,” high school Coach Eric Villarino said. “It’s a pinnacle. All the work we’ve done paid off.”
The victory boosts the team to the ranks of Brownsville’s powerhouse teams that have dominated the region since the 1990s, said Luis Gonzalez, assistant director of the district’s After-School Program, which pushed to build the chess program launched 10 years ago.
“It sets a standard for other teams,” Gonzalez said.
Strong finishes by other San Benito teams helped hone the talents of younger players who will fuel the high school team in years to come, Villarino said.
“Our San Benito teams did very well overall,” Villarino said. “We’re going to keep building on that.”
The top two finishes by the San Benito and Porter teams show the strength of the Rio Grande Valley’s chess programs, Villarino said.
“The top two teams in the high school division came from the Valley so that speaks a lot of our Valley programs and our commitment to chess,” Villarino said.
In the high school division, Veterans Memorial Academy, the district’s ninth-grade campus that won the United States Chess Federation’s ninth-grade national championship in 2010, took fourth place in the high school division.
In the middle school division, Miller Jordan Middle School finished in third place, while Riverside Middle School took fifth place.
In the elementary school division, Dr. Cash Elementary School finished in third place, while Ed Downs Elementary School took fourth place.
San Benito senior Simon Vasquez took a fourth-place finish among the tournament’s top scorers.
“It’s a great victory for our team,” said Vasquez, the team’s anchor who developed his talent with the district’s chess program since first grade.
Across the state, the team has risen to become a powerhouse, Karlos Ramos, a senior who began playing chess in fourth grade, said.
“When we’d go to state, the other teams didn’t know who we were,” Ramos said. “It’s really important to win and represent the Valley.”
Sophomore Brandon Flores was one of the players who joined the high school team after helping Veterans Memorial Academy win the ninth-grade championship in 2010. He has been playing chess since the fifth grade.
“It gave us experience and a lot of confidence,” said Flores.
The championship comes on the heels of the high school team’s victory last month in the Region 8 tournament held at Veterans Memorial Academy.
Jack Garcia, director of the district’s After School Program said, “I think we can play with anyone in the country. It’s extremely tough at the national level. They’re in for some tough competition.”
February 20, 2012 10:40 PM
Article taken from Valley Morning Star on Feb. 21, 2012