HARLINGEN — Members of San Benito’s ninth grade chess team raised their tall trophy Monday as parents cheered at Valley International Airport, a day after they won the district’s first national chess championship.
“I feel great,” Brandon Flores said as fellow team members gathered around thepir trophy. “It’s the first time it’s ever been done in San Benito — the championship.”
The squad competed against seven teams from across the country in the United States Chess Federation’s three-day ninth grade championship meet held in Orlando, Fla.
“It was pretty tough,” Flores said. “It was team work and dedication.”
Parents like Mary Guevara pulled out their cell phones to take photographs as they cheered for the team made up of her son Erick Guevara, Flores,
Jose Luis Urrutia Jr., Jason Daniel Sauceda,
Steven Vasquez,
Tonatiuh Gonzalez and Jesus Coronado Lino.
For parents, the championship capped years of support for the students who have played as teammates since grade school.
“I’m very proud,” parent Tomatillo Gonzalez said. “They went there and brought back the trophy for San Benito.”
Teacher and chess team sponsor Jose Reyes said the squad played against some of the nation’s powerhouses that have vied for the trophy for generations.
“It was a big accomplishment — a big upset,” he said.  “We had to go head to head with top players. The kids always kept their composure. This didn’t start this year. These kids have been playing as a team since grade school. They don’t rely on one player. It’s a team.”
San Benito Mayor Jack Garcia, who works as director of the district’s After-School program that oversees the chess program, hailed the championship as a historic event for the program that was launched in 2002.
“This is years of hard work by parents, volunteers, coaches. To compete at the championship level speaks volumes of the program,” Garcia said. “Some of the schools had the advantage that they’re private schools that incorporate chess as part of the curriculum. These kids practice mornings, at lunch and after school. These kids will live with this for the rest of their lives — champions at the national level.”
For three years, Coach Roberto Miramontes honed the team’s skills.
“It was all the practice we had after school with our coach,” Erick Guevara said of Miramontes. “We learned new tactics.”
Miramontes predicted future championships as the players join the San Benito High School chess team next year.
“It’s not going to be the last,” Miramontes said. “They’ve got a lot of good students. Next year they’ll be even better when they join kids with more experience.”