The Mendota High School chess team made all the right moves – again.
The team, known as the “Knuckleheads,” placed first at a national championship last weekend in Santa Clara.
The victory for the students from the tiny west side school follows their state championship in April.
And, they weren’t the only Valley students to bring home trophies from the National Scholastic Chess Championship on Saturday and Sunday.
A group of Coalinga students also did well in several individual and team categories at the competition.
The achievements are quite a tribute to the students, their coaches and schools – and a source of pride for the region’s chess community, said Bob Rasmussen, president of the Fresno Chess Club.
“The best of the best in chess in the nation are from two schools in farming communities in west Fresno County,” he said. “Now, that’s pretty powerful.”
Rasmussen says chess is popular in the area – he says the Fresno Chess Club, with about 320 members, is the second largest in the U.S. – and the Mendota and Coalinga students have been so successful because the game was introduced in after-school programs about 20 years ago.
Students who participated in chess over the years are now adults and are passing on their passion to younger generations, Rasmussen said.
“To play chess, you have to be a thinker and love to think,” he said.
Fresno also has hosted a world chess tournament each of the past three years, adding to the game’s appeal in the area, Rasmussen said.
The Mendota students, who took first place in the Premier Division at the CalChess State Championships in April, won the 16- to 18-year-old section at last weekend’s national tournament, which attracted 300 competitors.
Mendota Mayor Robert Silva said he was proud of the students’ perseverance and accomplishment.
“This clearly demonstrates the benefits of hard work and thinking big when it comes to success and achievement,” he said.