Three-Peat! Henderson Middle School’s Chess Dynasty gets Champion’s Welcome

A swarm of cheering fans welcomed the Henderson Middle School chess team home from Arlington after claiming their third state title in a row.

The Hornets competed in the 2017 North/Central Texas Scholastic Chess Championships last weekend, earning top honors in the novice and junior varsity categories. The team earned a spot in the national competition in Nashville in May.

“The entire community is rallying together to welcome them,” principal Elizabeth Maldonado said. “We are proud of the students on their third state title.”

The Jefferson/Silva High School band joined Henderson’s band and cheerleaders setting the mood for the welcome party. Cafeteria staff joined in the jam clanking their pots and pans with spoons.

Chess player Ariana de la Cruz wasn’t expecting such a grand reception when she and her teammates stepped off the bus.

“It felt amazing to see so many people. We didn’t know it was going to be this big,” de la Cruz said. “We were all surprised, but it feels good to be appreciated and recognized for our hard work.”

Coach Saul Ramirez credits the students’ success at state to their steady drive and hard work.

“We work extremely hard. We have very rigorous practice every day after school. These students practice on top of their regular homework assignments,” Ramirez said. “We received a lot of good comments from the coaches and the directors, which just helps us set the tone for nationals.”

Sixth-grader Isaac Mendoza had never played chess before he joined the team, but much like his team, he has exceeded all expectations. He placed first in novice and is now one of the highest ranked players on the team.

“When I found out I had won first place, I was very excited,” Mendoza said. “The competition was very difficult because there were a lot of good players, but we have been practicing a lot so we earned it.”

Mendoza is looking forward to competing at the national level with his team.

“I am excited about nationals,” Mendoza said. “I am ready to play.”

Seventh-grader Paola Macias was also among the 34 students who competed in Arlington, placing 14th in the JV category.

“I’m very excited the team won because it means we can continue to put El Paso on the map, and that we can keep learning to play our best,” Paola said

Paola’s mom, Veronica Macias, met her daughter with a big hug and bouquet of flowers.

“I’m really proud of the students. This is showing them there are no limits,” Macias said. “My daughter started playing last year because she couldn’t play volleyball but now chess is her life.”

Paola agrees: “Chess has changed my life forever. If I had never learned how to play chess, I would not be the person I am today.”