Webster Celebrates College Chess Title, As New Hire Pays Off by Alan Greenblatt April 08, 2013 3:39 PM NPR
If there's no such thing as bad publicity, how much is good publicity worth?
Webster University wants to find out.
Last year, the university didn't have a chess team. On Sunday, its team took
home the national college championship, the President's Cup, after winning what
is often called the "Final Four" of chess.
Webster, which is located just outside of St. Louis, picked up its team
nearly intact last year from Texas Tech. The university hired coach Susan
Polgar, who had won two straight championships in Texas, and the whole
team came along with her.
Webster's chess team includes eight grandmasters. It's become instantly so
dominant that two of its squads qualified for the chess Final Four, although
only one was allowed to play.
When it comes to winning championships, Polgar and her players "have been
there, individually and collectively," Webster provost Julian Schuster said
Monday at a campus rally celebrating the team's victory.
"Let us thank them for what they've done for us," Schuster said. "For the
first time in the almost 100-year history of our university, we are the national
Webster, which is now private and non-denominational, was founded as a
Catholic women's college and has become known over the years for its performing
arts programs and its business school. Its main campus is in the St. Louis
suburb of Webster Groves, but Webster boasts almost 100 satellite campuses
around the world.
Schuster said in an interview that chess was part of his upbringing in
Yugoslavia and that his primary goal in bringing Polgar to Webster was
incorporating the game into the intellectual life of the university.
Still, he added, "there's no doubt" that their victory is good news for the
At the celebration, members of Webster's media relations team counted
reporters in attendance, noting that the weekend tournament had garnered the
university national attention (including from NPR).
"The Washington Post was the big one," said Patrick Giblin,
Webster's director of public relations, referring to a front-page
story that ran Saturday.
Chess has become big business in the St. Louis area. The World Chess Hall
of Fame moved to the city two years ago, while St. John Vianney High School
in nearby Kirkwood won its
second national championship this weekend.
Webster's own champions looked a little shy and sheepish as they entered the
campus lounge with their big trophy in tow, joining school administrators and
someone wearing the costume of the campus mascot, the cheetah-buffalo-St.
Bernard blend Gorlok.
There were no pom-pom girls, tipped cars or burning mattresses, but there
were cookies in the shapes of chess pieces.
"I wasn't even aware there was a team," said Brieanna Lee, a psychology major
sitting in the lounge, eating french fries and ranch dressing.
But Lee admitted their victory in the chess Final Four was "an
accomplishment." Other students who happened to be in the lounge said they
"lived in the music basement" or were otherwise "too busy" to follow the chess
team, but generally agreed its triumph would help their school nonetheless.
Success builds upon success. Most of Webster's grandmasters hail from other
countries, but one of the players from Vianney's winning chess team has
expressed an interest in joining them from neighboring Kirkwood.
"What we hope is that the success of our chess team will be perceived as the
success of the university in general," Schuster says. "It will permeate through
everything we do and will speak to how we do things in the future."