Roy Mendoza Sr. – San Antonio’s Chess Trailblazer
For a generation of scholastic chess players in San Antonio, Roy Mendoza Sr. ran the preeminent scholastic chess program from the late 1960’s into the late 1980’s.
As a newly minted 1960’s-era educator, he began his teaching career at San Antonio’s Horace Mann Middle School. On top of his teaching duties, he coached the school’s chess team. Mr. Mendoza spent considerable time working with those kids, resulting in a team trophy at their very first tournament. Even more impressive, they were the only middle school kids participating in a field of high school players.
Early on Mr. Mendoza recognized a need for San Antonio’s chess-playing kids to participate in an affordable, well run series of chess tournaments during the school year that would culminate with an annual city chess championship. Thus began his En Passant chess program, which he made available to all local schools. Champions were recognized at the elementary, middle school and high school divisions.
Tournaments were held bi-weekly and hosted at schools representing various San Antonio-area districts. Round 1 was played on Friday evening, then four more were played on Saturday. It was commonplace to have more than 300 kids gathered in a school cafeteria playing competitive chess. Pairings and tiebreaks were all done by hand. The entry fee was $2.00. In addition, players received a professionally made En Passant membership card and a rating which changed depending on their over-the-board play and the opportunity to play chess against some of the best scholastic players in the city. After the final round, ribbons and trophies were presented to players at the top of the final standings and parents arrived to pick up their tired but happy kids.
For a number of years, Mr. Mendoza would open up a loan at the start of the scholastic chess season at a San Antonio based bank. He’d make a deposit from the entry fees regularly and at the end of the year would have just enough to pay off the loan needed to send the two top high school players with airfare and hotel to play in a chess tournament on the east coast.
As Mr. Mendoza moved up in his career, he always made sure he either founded or supported a chess club in the school where he was placed to work. There would be seven different schools along his journey as an educator. For a number of years, he held principal positions which included stints at the middle school and the high school levels.
His daughter recalled a memorable road trip one summer break year where Roy packed up his wife and children in the family station wagon and headed to Philadelphia during the United States bicentennial celebration. They stopped along the way visiting historic places to learn more of our country’s past. This trip afforded Mr. Mendoza the opportunity to play in a chess tournament, something he didn’t have much time to do over the years. Thanks to the printed annual rating lists of the 1970’s, we were able to find his 1972 year-end rating of 1700—a solid class B player.
Thousands of local kids between the late 1960’s to the late 1980’s were lucky to be part of his En Passant chess program.