For Immediate Release
Chess Program Director to Serve on National Chess Council
BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – AUGUST 14, 2012 – Russell Harwood is the man behind the scenes of the award-winning chess team at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. As Chess Program Director for the past six years, Harwood has combined his business background with his love of chess to manage one of the country’s premier chess teams.
Having served on the United States Chess Federation Scholastic Committee for the past year, Harwood has received the honor of being elected as one of the seven members of the USCF Scholastic Council, effective Sunday, Aug. 12, at the USCF annual conference in Vancouver, Washington. The USCF represents the United States in the World Chess Federation (FIDE), linking U.S. members to chess players around the world.
“The USCF Scholastic membership totals about 80,000, ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade players,” Harwood said. “I’m the only member of the council from Texas. I look forward to being an advocate for all so school players, especially those from the Valley and the state.”
Harwood has also been chairman of the USCF College Chess Committee since late 2010 and was reelected for another year this past December. The USCF College Chess Committee is the administrative body for university-level chess competition.
“It’s helpful to have the connection with the two groups – many of those in scholastic chess go on to play chess in college,” Harwood said.
Chess entered Harwood’s life when he learned to play from a couple of friends in middle school; however, the game was never more than an enjoyable pastime.
A Brownsville native, Harwood graduated from St. Joseph Academy in 1975. After earning his Bachelor of Business Administration from Texas State University (formerly Southwest Texas State in San Marcos) in 1981, he returned to Brownsville to work with his father in the family cotton warehouse business on Ringgold Road, located on land that is now a part of UTB and TSC campus.
With the decline of the cotton business, Harwood set off for the Austin area, becoming a park ranger at the Hamilton Pool Preserve and Westcave Preserve.
His positive experiences working with school children as a ranger coupled with the teaching profession running in his family, Harwood started thinking about following his mother’s and sisters’ examples as educators. He returned to Brownsville, received his teaching certification and began his new career in a second grade bilingual class at Brownsville’s Morningside Elementary in 1996.
“I knew I was embarking on a new and different path, but I had no idea at the time of how profoundly this move would impact my life,” he said.
Harwood and a couple other teachers started a chess team at Morningside.
“I only knew how to play chess; I certainly didn’t know I would one day be teaching it, and I was struggling,” Harwood said. “The chess team at Russell Elementary had been so successful under J.J. Guajardo, so I looked to him for help. J.J. came to the rescue and trained me to be a coach.”
After helping lead Morningside to a number of state championships, Harwood moved to a new school, Dr. Americo Paredes Elementary, where he was instrumental in leading the Paredes chess team to an unprecedented six national championships.
The UTB and TSC chess team at that time was showing potential, and Harwood felt it was time to take on a new challenge to help shape a program on the university level.
“The focus at time was on team building and recruiting talented players,” he said.
Right away, Harwood recruited the first female player, Nelly Estrada, who had been going to school in Ciudad Juarez.
“Nelly’s program was not available here, so she started over in biology,” he said. “She graduated from UTB in December 2008 and is now finishing up her last year of medical school at Texas Tech University Health Science Center in El Paso.”
Since he came on board in November 2006, the UTB and TSC chess team has flourished, placing among the top five collegiate chess teams for the past five years. The team has finished in the top five in the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship over the past five years and has qualified for the “Final Four of Chess” on three occasions.
“Now students call us, looking to join our team,” he said. “Often one student brings in another from the ‘chess pipeline.’ We just welcomed Aura Salazar from Colombia, a recommendation of Woman Grandmaster Nadya Ortiz, who graduated from UTB in December 2011 and is currently attending graduate school at Perdue University. The good chess players all know each other or at least know of one another and are familiar with their abilities.”
As chess program director, Harwood’s responsibilities are varied. He is the “go-to” guy when players need help, such as rides to the airport or the bus station. Harwood said he laughs because they always seem to book the earliest morning flights or the midnight bus.
“Many of them are very far from home, and they become like family while here,” he said. My wife and I hosted Nelly’s wedding reception in the garden of our home; then we had to say goodbye as she went off to medical school. I’m so proud of our students – sometimes I feel like a dad.”
For more information on chess at UTB and TSC, visit the chess program website.
Information on the upcoming chess tournament on Aug. 18-19, open to the public, can be found at UTB and TSC First Summer Classic Chess Tournament.