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Girl’s Chess Camp Held in La Feria

61 Players participate

Girls who participated in La Feria Chess Camp with their trophies. Photos: Bill Keltner/LFN

Bill Keltner

One could say that girl’s chess is alive and well in the Rio Grande Valley as evidenced by the support for the 1st Annual Queens of the RGV Invitational Chess Camp held at Sam Houston Elementary School in La Feria. The week-long event July 10-14, 2017.

It highlighted the amazing talents of our young lady chess players.

This is no small achievement as it places the Rio Grande Valley chess players in a league with others in the U.S. Chess Scholastic Council with players and coaches from California to New York.

One of the local coaches, Russell Harwood, is the Chess Program Director for La Feria I.S.D and a music teacher at Sam Houston Elementary. He explained how this first invitational girl’s chess camp came into existence.

Chess is a game of concentration.

It came about through a chance meeting he had with a great chess enthusiast named Henri Slezinger while attending the U.S. Chess Tournament earlier this year in Nashville, Tennessee. Slezinger is a chess promoter interested in finding a venue for a chess competition in deep South Texas. “I’ve got the perfect place,” Harwood told him:

“It’s where I teach elementary level girls in La Feria, Texas. These girls are already fervent chess competitors,” he said. “Sounds like the place”

Slezinger said,”Let’s do it.”

Then everything just fell into place according to Harwood. Not surprising, Slezinger’s daughter, Gaby, was also one of the participants in the La Feria chess camp..

Harwood next approached Rey Villarreal, Superintendent of the La Feria I.S.D. with the prospect of a chess camp in La Feria, and he loved it. Villarreal offered an adequate space for the Girl’s Chess Camp, and the project was off and running. Letters of invitation went out, and there were eager responses from San Antonio, Atlanta Georgia, 45 girls from La Feria and 16 from McAllen.

First place winning girls chess team

Harwood asked J.J. Guajardo, a renowned chess coach and father of scholastic chess in the Rio Grande Valley, if he could come by and help out at the camp one day. JJ said, “I can do better than that…I will do the entire camp with you and also donate my time if my girls from Our Lady of Sorrows School in McAllen can come.” Enthusiasm for the project continued Harwood explained, adding, “This was a great help, as Guajardo had been one of my mentors when I started coaching.” The other coaches were J.J. Guajardo Jr.; Ernie Garcia; Melva Hager and George Rohrer.

It gets better: “Guajardo and I already had been featured together on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryan Gumbel” and the TV show Texas Country Reporter,” he said.. “This was the first opportunity we ever had to work together on a project.

Russell Harwood with Henri Slezinger and his family.

Chess player Kathya Lopez is entering 5th grade at Dominguez Elementary. She said this about her experience: “I really like this camp because it’s ONLY for girls, and it’s a great chance to meet new friends. The coaches also give us awesome advice.”

None of this would have happened if Russell Harwood had not met Henri, Gabriella and Gaby in the Girl’s Club during the U.S. Chess Supernationals held in Nashville, Tennessee May 12-14, 2017.

This project put the Rio Grande Valley scholastic girl chess players on the map in the national league with the U.S. National Chess Supernationals with players from coast to coast.

Great job girls—Let’s make it an annual affair. Oh, yes, Russell Harwood invited anyone interested in learning how they can support this truly, worthy scholastic program can call him at 956 572 3780

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