Spring 2017

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Page 12 of 43

SPOTLIGHT ATPE NEWS 13 Fernando practices as much as five hours a week on chess tactics. On the day before a tournament, he will practice for an hour and a half. Y ou might not expect today's teenagers to be attracted to the re- fined and thoughtful game of chess in the age of social media and fast-paced handheld gaming. But in Brownsville, it's not uncommon to see tables covered with plastic check- ered gaming mats, and students staring silently and patiently contemplating their next move. The South Texas bor- der town has a long and storied histo- ry as a chess powerhouse. It all began in the early 1990s when elementary school teacher J. J. Guajardo tackled classroom behavioral issues by showing his students how to play the classic two- player strategy board game. In 1993, Guajardo's team won its first state chess championship, a feat the team repeated every year through 1999. Since Guajardo's chess dynasty, national trophies have continued to find a home in Brownsville. The chess players in Brownsville are so good that the school district's program was featured in a 2010 episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. The Valley chess magic even caught Hollywood's attention. In 2015, the film Endgame, about a Brownsville student who helps his school's chess team reach the Texas state finals, was released. BISD's lead resource teacher for ad- vanced academics, Corina Caballero, is also the district's chess coordinator. She says today's regional and state tour- naments host between 900 and 1,200 kids. Compare that to Brownsville ISD's 10 yearly local tournaments, each hosting between 700 and 900 stu- dents at the local level alone. Although Caballero doesn't play much chess any- more, she has been a chess sponsor and whole-heartedly believes in the power of the pawn. "I feel that competition is good for kids. If they don't have a good game, that means they have to work harder until next time. That's just part of life." Caballero also believes chess teaches life skills like critical thinking and problem solving. Fernando Montanaro sees the con- sequences of every move on the chess board and already understands the importance of his moves in life. The high school freshman is enrolled in the Science Technology, Architecture, and Medical Professions (STAMP) College Preparatory Program at Hanna High School, and plans on becoming a phar- macist. He says he's primarily focused on academics, but he quickly adds that he's focused on chess, too. He's been playing since the first grade and is now ranked in the top 10 percent nationwide in the US Chess Federation's junior classification. He's competed in seven national tournaments. ATPE News sat down with Fernando to talk about the appeal of the classic board game. Why should school districts promote the game of chess? It's a good idea to start a chess team because chess improves focus and con- centration and helps students set goals. And, overall, it helps students think more critically. It helped me focus a lot more because, with chess, you have to concentrate. A game can last as long as six hours. Plus, sometimes you focus on one move for as long as 20 minutes. Chess is also a lot like life because you have to plan, set your goals, and work toward them. Sometimes you make mis- takes. You just have to try harder and not give up—just like life. In the first grade, Fernando saw classmates playing chess. He says that once he learned some basic moves, openings, and strategies, he was hooked. continued on page 42

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