The 'A' team

Eight members of the Texas Tech Knight Raiders "A" team will be leaving to Webster University in the fall. This change will leave the remaining members of the Knight Raiders to defend Tech's two consecutive national championships.

Nine of the current Knight Raiders will transfer to Webster University in St. Louis with Susan Polgar, director of Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, and Paul Truong, director of marketing for SPICE, in June.

The players staying behind said they are sad to see these members go, but are optimistic about the future of chess at Texas Tech.

“I’ve spoken to the group on several occasions,” said Juan Muñoz, vice provost for undergraduate education. “I’ve assured them that chess is going to continue at Texas Tech. We plan to hire very, very highly accomplished people, and we plan to be competitive. We plan to continue to recruit students to play and to attend Texas Tech and to be exceptional students and equally accomplished players.”

There has been some confusion about the continuation of the chess at Tech and funds available to the program, said Brett James, a junior from Richmond with a concentration in pre-med.

“A lot of the papers that have been coming out lately – it got picked up by over 500 ones across the U.S., like ESPN, Yahoo, Associated Press, MPR News, New York Times, Wall Street (Journal), all these big newspaper articles, some even foreign – basically they’re saying the wrong thing,” James said.

There will be a team for the fall, he said. More than half of the current team is staying. A new director, coach and outreach coordinator will be hired. An outreach coordinator is a full-time position the team has never had before.

“I have formed a search committee,” Muñoz said, “which is comprised of staff and students. It’s chaired by our vice provost, former U.S. ambassador, Tibor Nagy. They’ve been meeting for weeks and have already identified three finalists (for coach).”

The team will have more scholarship funds than ever before, Muñoz said. A recent private pledge of approximately $280,000 will be divided during the course of four years. The program also has about $50,000 in annual permanent institutional dollars for scholarships.

The team has a separate operational budget he said, which will be used for transportation, food and hotel expenses.

“The money we have right now is good enough to fill the team that has already won the title twice,” James said. “It’s just not enough for maybe twice the size and more Grandmasters to keep coming, like the team was becoming. So Webster wants to have that, and that’s great but, you know, they’re a private school. They can have a little bit more money than Tech can, but Tech definitely has enough support here to have a championship team just like they did the last two years.”

Trey Modlin, a freshman undeclared major from Shaker Heights, Ohio, is confident about the Knight Raiders growing as a team. People are attracted to the school as much as they are to the chess program, he said.

Modlin visited the campus and the chess team before making the decision to come to Tech.

“I didn’t feel overwhelmed by being there,” he said, “and (the chess team) even let me get in on some training, so I wasn’t just being an observer.”

The interest in the chess program is growing in schools, James said. The Knight Raiders hosted the fifth annual Lubbock Open at the Science Spectrum in January.

“We used rooms that we’ve never had before with like 100 students in there by itself,” he said. “All the tournaments are over 100 students now. When I first got here there were like 70 to 80.”

The team may not be as competitive with the loss of the top players, James said.

“It’s definitely going to be a transition year,” he said, “kind of like the football team where we switched from Mike Leach. Now we have (head football coach Tommy) Tuberville.”

Replacing such a good coach is hard, James said. A lot of people are doubtful right now, but the team has a lot to look forward to in the next year starting with our practices in early September.

“(Susan) has incredible knowledge of chess,” he said. “She’s a good coach, but everybody has their own perspective. There’s all kinds of great coaches out there. We’re going to have another strong coach in the fall and we plan to keep winning titles, too. Basically, we want the campus to be confident and support us, just realize that we’re here.”

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