The University of Maryland Baltimore County pulled off the most historic win in college basketball history this weekend, when they stunned the University of Virginia, 74 to 54.

And in postgame interviews, they set an excellent example of humility and gratitude--you might even call it emotional intelligence--by giving just a little bit of credit to another unlikely group of high-achievers from their college.

First, the game. This win was a huge deal, because it's the first time in the history of the men's NCAA tournament that a No. 16 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed. 

Before last night, men's 16th seeds had gone 0-for-135 against No. 1 teams. (In the women's tournament, No. 16 Harvard beat No. 1 Stanford back in 1998.)

If you're not a college basketball fan, imagine if a minor league baseball team came into Yankee Stadium and dominated the New York Yankees. There's a lot of competition for the idea of "biggest upset" ever in college sports, but if this wasn't it, it's close.

And that's why it's surprising that after the game, a small part of the team's discussion was about chess.

Yes, chess. Because until last night, perhaps the biggest thing UMBC was known for--besides apparently producing two surgeon generals of the United States and appearing on a huge number of military members' resumes (they have a good remote program)--was its chess team, which made the final four of chess 15 years in a row.

In fact, UMBC is credited with basically creating the idea of a high-powered collegiate chess program. Its program director, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering named Alan T. Sherman, "built UMBC's program from scratch in the early 1990s," according to a 2015 profile in The Washington Post, by... 

"...offering scholarships to talented players from around the world who gave themselves nicknames such as The Mongolian Terror and The Polish Magician. UMBC has won or tied for first 10 times at the Pan-American tournaments, raising the school's national profile."

Other colleges imitated the model, including Webster University, and UMBC isn't as dominant as it once was. But it's still a powerhouse.

And that's why in postgame interviews after the biggest college basketball upset of all time, the players wound up being asked about the chess team.

"Don't forget about them, either. They're still big," UMBC center Nolan Gerrity said in answer to a reporter's question. "They paved the way. We looked up to them."

Of course this wasn't the main thrust of the interviews, and I'm sure the players didn't practice all season with a photo of the chess team in their locker room for inspiration.

But it's a really nice sentiment to see, on a night that was legitimately all about them. On to the next game--with one more reason to root for them.

Published on: Mar 17, 2018
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