Click photo to enlarge
FREMONT — Talk of local sports dynasties usually starts with the Raiders and 49ers of yesteryear. But away from the gridiron, the past two decades have belonged to the Mission San Jose Elementary School chess team.
The team last month dominated five of the six categories in the elementary school section at the Northern California Grade Level Championships in Stockton — and finished second in the sixth.
This followed its victory in the overall elementary section of the National Championships in 2009. The team also took home the national title in 1993, and has raked in 10 Northern California championships (there isn’t a statewide event) since then, including the past five in a row.
Forty-five team members traveled to the University of the Pacific on Dec. 4 and 5 to compete in the championships against players in their own grade.
Trophies were awarded to the top five teams in each grade, with Mission San Jose taking first place in grades one, two, three, five and six — and second place in grade four.
“Smart kids is really the main thing,” coach Joe Lonsdale said when asked for the key to the team’s success.
“You’ve got to have not just four great kids, but four super-genius kids. “… It became cool. Mission became a chess-playing school.”
Every dynasty needs a rival, and for Mission San Jose, that position is filled by another Fremont school, Weibel Elementary, which won the fourth-grade section in
“It’s a friendly rivalry, though,” Lonsdale said. “If we get lazy, Weibel’s going to beat us — and we don’t want Weibel to beat us.”
In Stockton, Weibel fourth-graders prevented Mission San Jose from sweeping the elementary section, emerging victorious by one point.
They’re dueling in the nationals as well. Last year, Weibel tied for first place in the K-3 section, and finished third in the overall.
Mission San Jose placed second in the K-1 section, tied for fourth in the K-3, finished third in the K-5 and placed ninth in the K-6.
“It’s a fun game,” said 10-year-old Eric Zhu, who played on the fifth-grade team in Stockton. “It trains your brain to think ahead and make good choices.”
Sayan Das, 10, also a fifth-grader, said he likes “the strategy, the thrill of ‘What’s my opponent going to do? How am I going to solve the problem? How am I going to attack?’ But I mostly like playing the game.”
Mission San Jose players next have their sights set on the Northern California Scholastic Championship in Santa Clara in April, and then the National Championships in Dallas the following month.
Contact Rob Dennis at 510-353-7010.