On Friday June 29, 2007, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric will feature a segment on Fernando Spada and Fernando Mendez. The segment will be the last one on the news and should air shortly before 6 p.m. central time.

This story was inspired by the Texas Monthly Magazine article written by Katy Vine last February.Here is a letter State Representative Rene Oliveira wrote the Brownsville Herald on Feb. 16, 2007. He addresses Katy Vine’s story “Check Mates”.

Letter to the Editor, February 16, 2007
Area chess success draws attention
February 17, 2007 – 2:32AM

Editor: A look at the February edition of Texas Monthly magazine offers an exciting glimpse into why Brownsville has become a hot spot on the world’s chess map. Instead of examining Brownsville’s border problems, the magazine takes a positive look at the game that is making Brownsville famous.

Katy Vine’s story “Check Mates” tells the tale of Fernando Spada and Fernando Mendez, two Brownsville fourth-graders who have taken the chess world by storm, ranking among the top young talent on the planet. The article exposes the deep vein of chess talent that has developed in Brownsville through hard work and cooperation. “Unlike fortuitous sports victories that leave a community believing that the gods happen to be smiling on its citizens, all of this success made some residents think about what these hard-earned achievements really meant,” Vine writes, “There is never just talent in the water; something had happened in Brownsville.”

That something was the recognition of local success, and a community working to continue it in a non-traditional Texas extracurricular pursuit: chess. Against the odds, Brownsville is consistently producing some of the nation’s top talent, routinely competing with, and beating, students from the nation’s most elite private schools.

It was Russell Elementary’s J.J. Guajardo’s initial foray into teaching chess to some pranksters that began to move the pieces all across town: “The principal was so impressed when she poked her head in the classroom and witnessed the once-unruly youths hunched over their boards that she asked Guajardo to work with them every school morning. He did. Guajardo wasn’t an expert, but he believed that if he taught them the fundamentals, their natural abilities would take over,” the story reads.

On the heels of Guajardo’s success and a growing chess movement, the Brownsville Independent School District funded the development of chess programs. The success model has been replicated at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, where a chess program is thriving under the direction of Russell Harwood and Gilberto Hernandez.

Canada, Iceland, Russia, Venezuela and other nations have incorporated chess into parts of their school curriculums, acknowledging the game’s value in problem solving, pattern recognition and teaching the concept of consequences of action as well as inaction.

In Brownsville’s case, as Texas Monthly shows, chess success is a blueprint for achievement in academic and professional endeavors, teaching students a great game along the way. The blueprint reads: Our kids are as smart and capable as any in the world. They can do anything they set their minds to.

State Rep.
Rene Oliveira

Source: The Brownsville Herald

Special thanks to Victor Flores for sharing this story with us. This is one of the many things that the USCF should be involved with, at least in promoting it, through grassroots movement, across the country.

Unfortunately, the success of Brownsville, Arizona, Illinois, the Northwest, just to name a few, happened in spite of the lack of support from the USCF. I am not sure that even a single current board member of the USCF has ever been to Brownsville or work with anyone in Brownsville to help chess. They are too busy playing politics instead of doing things in the best interest of chess or fulfilling the USCF mission.

Congratulations to the two Fernando as well as the entire city of Brownsville! This is how chess should be! Well done everyone!

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