Some colleges recruit wide receivers. Some go after power forwards. Others look for center fielders.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County wants chess players.
With the kind of advertising, aggressive recruiting and big-money scholarships normally reserved for football and basketball, the Catonsville campus has turned itself into a national chess powerhouse.
UMBC tied for fifth place in December's Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship -- the equivalent of the college World Series -- and outsiders think the school is only going to get better.
"We are as excited about our chess team as other schools are about their football teams," said UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III, one of the chess program's biggest boosters. "These young people are some of our best thinkers and highest achieving students on campus," he said.
"I wouldn't be surprised if UMBC wasn't sitting alone at the top in the next couple of years," said Steve Shutt, coach at J. R. Masterman Middle and High Schools in Philadelphia, whose championship teams have made it a prime target for college chess recruiters.
Promotion is a big part of UMBC's strategy for attracting talented players -- and competing with other big-time chess schools, which range from Harvard University to the Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York City.
Many credit Alan T. Sherman, the UMBC faculty chess adviser since 1990, with the college's chess success.
"He's the whole driving force," said Robert Erkes, vice president of the Maryland Chess Association and regional vice president of the U.S. Chess Federation. "Without him, there would no such chess team."
But Mr. Shutt, the Masterman coach, said that UMBC's curriculum also helps it recruit good players. "UMBC has a strong academic background in math, science and computer science. . . . That's an important part of the appeal," he said.
One Masterman graduate and chess player, Alex Shinn, is attending UMBC on a presidential scholarship. "Dr. Sherman was looking for recruits and called the chess coach," said Mr. Shinn, an 18-year-old sophomore, explaining how he found out about the college's chess program.
Other players, like Ishan Weerakoon, come from farther afield. The former Sri Lankan chess champion decided to attend UMBC after Dr. Sherman approached him.
"I like the chess, the academics. The school is very good," said Mr. Weerakoon, 27, who is working on his doctorate in computer science.
For his part, Dr. Sherman, an assistant professor of computer science, attributes the school's success on the chess circuit to Dr. Hrabowski. "He's vowed to make chess at UMBC as important as any other sport," Dr. Sherman said.
For the past six months, UMBC has been advertising for chess scholars in Chess Life magazine. The results have been positive, despite the strict qualifications required of candidates, Dr. Sherman said.
Those include Scholastic Assessment Test scores over 1400, a ranking in the top 10 percent of the class and a U.S. Chess Federation rating higher than 2000. The federation's point system ranges from 0 to 2800.
Dr. Sherman said he receives at least three calls a week about the ad and has had responses from as far away as Lichtenstein.
The college also has managed to attract a highly respected new coach, Igor Epshteyn of Minsk, Belarus, who has taught several grandmasters. Another grandmaster, Ilya Smirin of Israel, will arrive on campus in the fall.
Mr. Smirin will study computer science while adding his credentials to the chess club and holding chess camps for children.
"One of our most important goals is to help students in local middle schools and high schools and encourage academics in schools through chess," Dr. Sherman said.
Just last month, UMBC was host to the Sweet 16 playoffs of the Maryland Scholastic Chess Championships. The college offered a full-tuition, four-year scholarship to the winner, Edic Tsibulevsky, 12, a seventh-grade Anne Arundel County student.
It is a windfall for the family who emigrated from the Ukraine two years ago. "I want that they should have good education, good jobs," said Edic's mother, Rita Tsibulevsky, a part-time student at Anne Arundel Community College. Another son, Mikhail, 14, placed third in the scholastic competition.
Sharon Brunetti, a scholastic assistant at the U.S. Chess Federation, said there is an increasing interest in chess at younger ages. "A lot of schools are getting involved. The elementary schools are really getting involved," she said.
But Ms. Brunetti said the Chess Federation is particularly pleased by the heightened competition at the college level. "We were losing them [chess players] for a while during the college years," Ms. Brunetti said. "But now more of them are trying to coordinate their studies with their chess."