Brownsville Chess Teams Get Some National Pub

It's been more than two years since the Houston Press wrote about the unlikely success of the collegiate and grade school chess programs in Brownsville, but now the big boys at HBO have caught up and will air a segment Tuesday night about the community's championship teams on its Emmy award-winning program, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

Russell Harwood, chess director at the University of Texas at Brownsville, tells Hair Balls that HBO reporter Mary Carillo, along with a film crew from Austin, spent several days interviewing middle and elementary school players and coaches from the small Texas border town, chronicling the rise of chess there starting in the early 1990s.

Schools within the Brownsville district have won numerous championships, including one this past year when a middle school took home the national title, says Harwood. The UTB team finished second in the nation this past season, losing the championship by only half a point.

"We're really knocking on the door," says Harwood, "and hopefully we're on the verge of really kicking it down."

Harwood hopes the national attention and visibility will help his ability to recruit some of the top players who have traditionally chosen other chess powerhouses, such at UT Dallas and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. But that's not all.

"The main thing I'm hoping for," he says, "is that it will inspire other districts to start chess programs and will see the way it's really helped our kids academically."

Harwood is equally excited about appearing on such a prestigious and serious newsmagazine program.

"To me," he says, "it's really neat because a lot of people say chess is not a sport, and so to come out on a show called 'Real Sports' is particularly cool."

HBO is not the only big-time attention Brownsville chess is receiving. Harwood says that a documentary, tentatively titled From Pawns to Kings, about the players and teams is being made and that plans are in the works to turn that documentary into a Hollywood feature film.

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