Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Big move to the heartland of America
College poaches chess team, coach
By Dylan Loeb McClain
The Columbus Dispatch
Wednesday February 15, 2012 6:27 AM
Imagine if a university without a basketball program recruited Mike Krzyzewski, the coach at Duke University, and managed not only to hire him but also to persuade most of the team to switch schools. In essence, that is what Webster University in St. Louis has done by hiring Susan Polgar, the head of Texas Tech’s chess program.
Polgar, a grandmaster and former women’s world champion, was hired by Texas Tech University in 2007 to create an elite chess program. The university even named the program after Polgar, calling it the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, or SPICE.
In April, Texas Tech won the Final Four of Chess in Herndon, Va. It was Texas Tech’s first championship since Polgar arrived.
Now Polgar and her husband, Paul Truong, who is the chess team’s manager, are leaving Texas Tech, which is in Lubbock, Texas, and has more than 32,000 students. They are going to Webster, a university mostly geared to postgraduate students around the world. Its main campus in St. Louis is only 47 acres.
Texas Tech’s top 10 players — eight grandmasters and two international masters, some of whom had just committed to Texas Tech — also are switching universities. They are set to start in the fall. Polgar is to begin on June 1. On paper, Webster will have the top-ranked team in the country.
In an interview with KCBD, NBC’s affiliate in Lubbock, Truong said that the switch was caused by a lack of financial resources at Texas Tech.
Chris Cook, a spokesman for Texas Tech, said that budget cuts had affected several teams but that teams are still adequately financed.
He said that the university intends to hire a new coach and manager to succeed Polgar and Truong.
Julian Z. Schuster, the provost of Webster University, said that he was responsible for recruiting and hiring Polgar and establishing the team at the school. Schuster said that he and the coach have mutual friends, and he learned that she was thinking about leaving Texas Tech. They exchanged emails, and Polgar visited the campus.
“Technically, I don’t know who winked first,” said Schuster, but he added, “You know the old expression: It takes two to tango.”
Schuster said that Webster has an endowment of about $80 million and is financing the new program, including the cost of scholarships, entirely out of its coffers. The financial commitment would run at least long enough for the students who are matriculating, some of whom are freshman, to graduate.
Schuster said that having a top team eventually would more than pay for itself by raising Webster’s profile and stimulating interest in the university.
Mentioning that Webster has campuses in more than 100 places around the world, Schuster, who grew up in the former Yugoslavia, where chess is popular, said, “I did not grow up in this country. I do not play football. I do not have this connection from the old country. Chess is a global game, and we live in global times. And Webster is a global university.”