Tuesday, November 16, 2021
  Awards and Recognitions

By Amanda Taylor

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The UTRGV Math and Science Academy has won the 2021 Texas Grade Championships held for 12th-graders.  

UTRGV MSA was represented by Carlos De Leon, Adolfo Balderas and William McNutt, at the competition held Oct. 30-31 in Houston.

The team is being coached by UTRGV’s Chess Coach and Grandmaster, Bartek Macieja, who oversees the multiple chess teams at UTRGV that have successfully competed in tournaments throughout the state, as well as national and international levels.

McNutt obtained five points at first place, Deleon obtained 4.5 points in fourth place, and Balderas obtained 4.5 points in third place.  

Overall, UTRGV scored 14 of a possible 18 points.  

The team now heads to the National K-12 Grade Chess Championships in Orlando, FL, in December.  

The MSA Chess Program is relatively new to UTRGV, starting with tournaments in the 2019 / 2020 academic year.

Dr. Wilma Smetter, principal at MSA, said she is grateful to Macieja for his dedication and the time spent with this new chess team over the past few years.  

“Our UTRGV MSA Chess Team is just another phenomenal component of our award-winning program,” she said.  

Macieja said chess allows students to travel and experience new places, like the upcoming tournament in Orlando. 

“We hope the chess program will help them to be successful in life,” he said. “They will learn new skills, and their chess successes are often noted by the best universities nationwide.” 



McNutt, a senior at MSA in Brownsville, won the individual championship, scoring five of six possible points, and is now the state champion from the competition.  

“In chess, there are many obstacles on and off the chess board,” he said. “But what I am most worried about going into a match is making a mistake that changes the outcome of the match.”  

Going into the tournament, McNutt was ranked No. 4, which means there were three other students who ranked a bit higher and easily could outrank him. During the second round, McNutt lost to the highest-rated player in the tournament, which knocked him down a few ranks.  

Instead of accepting defeat, McNutt swept through and won the remaining games, knocking out his competitors and capturing the championship.  

“Before this year, my last tournament was in November 2019. This year, I’m happy to be able to compete at over-the-board chess tournaments again,” McNutt said. “Our chess coach, Grandmaster Bartek Macieja, has been working with us once a week to refine our skills.” 

Macieja said that, in the last winning round, McNutt’s main opponent went up against chess mate De Leon, which helped McNutt win the competition overall.  

“The main opponent played the last round against our student, Carlos De Leon,” Macieja said. “By winning, not only did Carlos advance to the fourth place, but he also opened the path for William to win the competition.  

“William didn’t waste the opportunity,” Macieja said. “He won his fifth game in six rounds – and became the state champion.” 

De Leon, also a senior at MSA in Brownsville, said winning isn’t always about beating other people, but often is about overcoming your own obstacles.  

“For me, the success in this tournament wasn’t in my placement, but in being able to believe in myself,” he said. “I had a rough start in the tournament and it was extremely frustrating, but I was reminded of how far I have come, and I was able to finish strongly.” 

Teammate Balderas, who obtained third place and tied for second, said he was thrilled to be able to attend an in-person tournament, even if the pandemic still makes him a little nervous.  

“I think that mountains are meant to be climbed, and the only way to the top is by working hard,” said Balderas, also a senior at UTRGV MSA in Brownsville. “This tournament was something that I had to practice for daily. Win or lose, I learn something from each game I play, which allows me to grow and climb more mountains.” 



McNutt, De Leon and Balderas all will attend the National K-12 Grade Chess Championships on Dec. 3-5, in Orlando.  

De Leon said he is a bit nervous about going to state and wants to do his best.  

“The expectations are high,” he said. “However, this recent tournament reminded me of my capabilities and reinforced my mindset that I will represent my team well.” 

As part of the program, Macieja said, students also had to complete a three-hour Mathematics of Chess course, which uses chess as an educational tool.  

“Previous UTRGV MSA Chess Team members have graduated and are attending universities, including UTRGV, UTSA, Rice, New York University, Columbia and MIT.” 

Smetter said the academy places an emphasis on effort. 

“At UTRGV MSA, we are about transforming potential into achievement, and we could not be prouder of William, Adolfo and Carlos,” she said. “They represent the best of our UTRGV Mathematics and Science Academy. Each has a fantastic work ethic when it comes to academics, and to chess preparation.”  

To learn more about UTRGV MSA, visit the link here. To learn more about the upcoming National K-12 Grade Chess Championships, visit the link here.


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.