A new book chronicling the tale of the Henderson Middle School National Championship Chess Team debuted at Barnes & Noble Booksellers earlier this month to a sold-out book signing party.
The “Champions’ Game” by Henderson chess coach Saul Ramirez as told to John Seidlitz follows the story of the original 12 national champions and their coach – their successes and challenges both in life and chess. Ramirez and his champions drew a large crowd to their initial book signing, selling all 40 of their original books within the first 30 minutes of the event. It has since been stocked and can also be purchased on Amazon.
The original 12 chess mates ventured to the signing to support their coach and mentor. They signed the book and took turns playing and teaching their skill to a group of Boy Scouts and other passersby. Younger team members also came out, proudly wearing their chess shirts knowing their chance at a national championship is eminent.
“It feels really great,” said Pedro Escobar, a Silva Health Magnet freshman and one of the 12 original members. “It’s something we can tell our kids and grandkids about when we’re older.”
He jumped in and out of games as crowds gathered around the team to watch.
“Chess has taught me to focus more and to think critically,” Escobar said. “When I have a problem, I try to focus on little things to fix it like in chess.”
Paola Macias, a Henderson 8th grader, sees the chess dynasty as a game changer, breaking boundaries for at-risk students in her community.
“The book is about the first year. They were the underdogs and for them to win was amazing, especially coming from El Paso,” Macias said. “It’s crazy to see all the people here. I didn’t expect to see all the community here to support us. It’s really cool.”
Although she wasn’t on the 2015 team, she shares with her chess family a passion for the game. She new nothing about the game when she signed up and met Ramirez on her first day at Henderson.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “There was just little plastic things on the board, but it attracted me. Once you get into the game, you block out everything else. I can sit at the game for hours and hours and never get bored.”
“Champions’ Game” gives readers insight into the life of Ramirez, the art teacher from the Segundo Barrio who discovered chess as a third grader at Roosevelt Elementary. It became his outlet – his way to stay off the streets and a path towards success.
“The book talks about how I started playing chess in elementary goes and how I met wife, how I got my job as a teacher, the struggles I been through growing up in the Segundo Barrio and who I am as a person,” he said. “Then it jumps into my students and their success as state and nation champions. Overall, the book is about life and the 14 rules of chess that the students had to follow to be successful. That’s why called Champions’ Game because it teaches you how to become a champion.”
Ramirez, EPISD’s 2017 Secondary Teacher of the Year and a candidate for Region 19 TOY, hopes the book inspires others to use chess as a tool teach students and create more success stories.
“This is done for kids,” he said. “We teach for the kids. We live for the kids. Giving this opportunity for students is what this is really about.”
He credits David Romo for teaching him chess at Roosevelt and mentoring him to earn national accolades for his chess prowess at a young age.
“Saul has always been a little prodigy,” Romo said. “The idea that he could go through all that adversity for so many years and has taken an idea that was planted into him in Segundo Barrio to develop this incredible blooming garden. It shows he has the capacity to inspire a lot of good in kids. I’m super proud of him.”