Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Building strong chess programs in Texas

Brownsville ISD Schools Are Building The Strongest Chess Program In Texas
(Posted Today 04:51 pm)

Chess coaches Eddie Payne and Daryl Inman interviewed numerous coaches and parents of Hanna High School and other South Texas attendees during this fall’s Texas Grade Championship in Houston on November 22-23. The goal was to discover the secret to South Texas’ domination in scholastic chess.

Among those interviewed was Dan DeLeon, a long time chess advocate, father of chess competitors in state events, the owner of The Chess Store that opens a sales room at state events, and a man who is very knowledgeable as to how southern Texas teams are building their chess programs.

Payne and Inman learned from DeLeon and confirmed with other sources how this most southern county in Texas has achieved dominance in scholastic chess from elementary through high school levels. As one would expect, the basic reason for success is money, but most of the money is from government grants.

First, money is provided from the ISD’s budget: Brownsville ISD has committed itself to greatness in chess in many ways. They provide a $400,000 budget, which is spread over 65 schools in their district. The money pays for equipment, books, DVDs, and registration fees for tournaments. This budget came into play after a group of candidates for the ISD Board successfully ran on a “pro-chess slate.”

Second, professional chess players have become involved: San Benito High School (of the Brownsville ISD) has contracted with Alphonso Almeida, an International Master with a USCF rating of over 2,400 points to coach and train their students.

In recent years, Susan Polgar, women’s world chess champion, visited the Brownsville area and was very engaged in chess programs in the local schools and with clinics that she provided. Her influence impacted female chess players heavily, while stimulating desire to play chess among all students. Currently, Polgar is working to build a strong West Texas chess program through work with Texas Tech.

Third, financial support is given to chess instructors: Brownsville ISD provides a $2,000 stipend for their chess coaches for each 25 active chess players. When the 26th and 51st players are added, a second and a third coach are hired, respectively, with this stipend. These stipends are in support of time spent in training programs during school and for overnight trips to tournament events.

Fourth, financial support is given for state and national tournaments to winning schools: When the Brownsville schools compete in regional tournaments, their top two schools receive full funding to send the two winning teams to the Texas championship tournaments. The funding pays for all players, coaches, and one parent per student for transportation, rooms and meals to the event.

When Brownsville schools finish in the top two positions in Texas state championship events, they receive full funding to national chess championships for players, coaches, and one parent per student. Hanna Elementary School’s six grade team is the reigning national champion.

Fifth, funding is sought outside of the local tax payers: By combining Title One and Migrant Worker funding into an “enrichment program,” Brownsville pays for after school training in a variety of activities including band, flag football, intramural basketball, art, chess, field hockey, and other enrichment events.

The Brownsville district is seeking funds from the 21st Century Project, a federal government grant that is under state control as an “enrichment program.” These monies permit after school training and a summer camp of one month duration for the chess program as a part of the various other sports and arts. The fund pays for equipment, books, DVDs, and other supplies for chess. Additionally, college students used for instruction are paid $18 per hour and licensed teachers are paid $21 per hour for their work in the after-school and in the summer camp programs.

“In the past three years, another southern ISD, Corpus Christi, has received four government grants for ‘enrichment programs.’ Each grant was for $3 to $5 million dollars,” said DeLeon, a resident of that city. Enrichment programs are available to all students who may participate in flag football, intramural basketball, art, chess, field hockey, or other events to broaden the experience and development of all students who wish to attend. No one is denied access to the enrichment programs. “This is not a ‘latch-key program’; it is a legitimate attempt to improve the culture and experience of the students,” said DeLeon.

Brownsville ISD is actively in a quest for government funds for enrichment programs. They have used some of their grant money, some tax dollars, and all donations to chess to build a chess program that provides champions and highly rated players in the United States Chess Federation ratings. They are a force to deal in competitions and are growing at a faster rate than most schools in the state in their cultural programs, one of them being chess.

Brownsville ISD has found the money to make it happen.

“By comparison,” says Coach Payne, “we are not hurting. We have raised sufficient money to buy books, DVDs, and chess equipment. The ISD, thankfully, has awarded the chess program a modest budget that covers our pressing expenses for state tournaments and the ISD has paid for Think Like a King, a software tool that trains students and manages in-school club activities. We are very grateful for this support, without which we would be contained to an in-school program only.

“However, to pay for trips to a national championship event, to create a summer camp and employ University of Dallas chess champions to visit and teach, and to have other quality programs of instruction, the chess program is lacking in funds. We can’t expect a small ISD to make this happen. If we get funding of this level, we must source out grants and federal funding. Money is out there for this type of quality enrichment event; we just have to source it.”

Mexia can be proud of the accomplishments of the high school chess team. In the calendar year 2008, the chess team placed fourth in the Texas Scholastic Chess Championship—Junior Varsity, first in the SFA Spring Invitational Tournament, third for the seniors in the Texas Grade Championship, and third for the juniors in the Texas Grade Championship.

In 2009, the team has won first place in the Region III Chess Championship which includes all teams from Mexia to Oklahoma to the Louisiana border. Also, the Blackcats have a 5-1 record in match play since August, losing only a very tight match to Klein of Houston, a previous state champion with a 21 year program under the same coach.

A total of 13 trophies were won in the past twelve months and were on display at the February school board meeting. Yes, the chess team has made Mexia proud!

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