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.

In November of 2018, a group of area chess players honored Mr. Mendoza with a dinner at a local popular restaurant to recognize all he had given to local the local chess community. The occasion was marked with a plaque from the San Antonio Chess Club and a framed certificate of achievement from the United States Chess Federation.

Roy Mendoza Sr. passed away March 5, 2020.
About the author
Richard Garcia
On January 2017, after more than three decades of inactivity, the author slowly has been in daily self-study to perhaps play the game once more. Sometime mid-2018, a post to the San Antonio Chess Facebook page asked what ever happened to Mr. Mendoza. No one had seen or heard from him were the responses. A question was posed if he’d ever been recognized for his past contributions to the local chess scene. No was the reply. It took nearly three months of contacting school district offices, Facebook pages and other dead ends before the author drew upon his career as a CPA. He was found through property tax records. A letter was mailed to his potential address with a return contact phone number. A photo was taken at a landmark restaurant mid-August of 2018 with the author and Mr. Mendoza meeting for lunch and a three hour conversation. Once San Antonio’s chess community received the news he was found, a gathering to honor him was arranged.

When the author’s youngest child was in third grade, she joined her elementary school’s chess team. One of the parent volunteers ran the after school club and was looking for someone to organize and run a chess tournament for the kids to play in. A second parent in the discussion accepted those tournament director duties. This author’s wife spoke up about how her husband knew all about chess tournaments. I remained tight lipped not wanting to volunteer. I was asked and a memory flickered in my brain of Mr. Mendoza’s giving to the community. I helped run that tournament for two years until the initial tournament director moved away and continued to run the tournament for an additional eight years. It was eventually a semi-annual scholastic tournament for kids in the San Antonio and surrounding area for kindergarten, elementary, middle school and high school levels. Mr. Mendoza certainly would have been pleased.