STEM & Athletics

6 Districts in 6 States Add Esports Teams

Six school systems have announced the introduction of esports teams in the last month.

Pennsylvania's Southern Tioga School District received grants to purchase two gaming stations for its high school. The gear will specifically enable the district to enhance its English language arts and STEM curriculum. The process began when a group of teachers attended an esports workshop.

"This isn't just students playing video games, said English Teacher Sarah Brion, in a statement. The district is participating in the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF), a nonprofit that has provided free curriculum linking ELA standards to esports. "Students will be researching, writing, and working collaboratively throughout the season," she explained.

Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin has added two five-member teams--one at the varsity level and another at the junior varsity level. This makes three teams--the other is at Warriner High School--in the Sheboygan Area School District. Physics teacher Dan Dielentheis said he wanted to coach the teams, "because it gives me the chance to share traditional 'sports' values to kids that might otherwise never join a traditional sport. Skills like teamwork, staying calm and focused, time management, critical thinking, and a host of other skills can be very specific to esports."

"We're very excited to get onto this playing field," added Mike Jaber, coordinator of instructional technology for the district. "With esports you reach a new demographic of students who might not be into traditional sports, band or other clubs. And it provides yet another avenue for scholarships."

Dawson County Schools in Georgia has also begun competing, according to local reporting. District Athletic Director Jason Gibson said that esports was added to the sports roster because, "we wanted to make sure we were offering the same activities as the other schools in our area." For the first season, students will play against each other in League of Legends and Rocket League through the PlayVS league. Junior high health and physical education teacher, Johnathan Tinsley, was named as the team's head coach. Although he has coached for more than two decades, he said, "this will be a different creature. I look forward to the season and learning with the kids."

According to the story, 41 schools across the state are currently offering esports programs, under the regulations of the Georgia High School Association.

Staunton River High School in Virginia is running its players through the paces during its first year of participation in a state-wide pilot. The Virginia High School League is testing the addition of esports to its sanctioned academic (rather than athletic) activities. The program schedule is being managed on PlayVS. If the pilot goes well, the executive committee for VHSL will consider sanctioning esports as an official activity.

Schools may choose to play League of Legends, Rocket League and SMITE; currently, however, Staunton is focused on LoL since the computers in its lab can only manage that, according to Coach Jonathan Frye, who spoke to a local reporter. Frye, an instructional technology resource teacher for the school, said he has tried coaching "several different sports" in the past. But he finds the "basic philosophy" the same for esports: "building on the basics, strengthening team play and debriefing after practice and games."

A recent board meeting of the Windsor Unified School District in California had esports on the agenda. The board approved the addition of competitive video gaming as a sanctioned sport at Windsor High School. The high school will be playing as part of the PlayVS league. The current participants meet regularly to play on the machines housed in the computer lab where filmmaking is taught, according to a local news report.

Among the points of discussion was whether esports truly could be considered a "real sport." When a board official suggested that esports was "just video games at school," Chris Moghtaderi, instructional and technology services director, came to its defense. As Moghtaderi, asserted, studies have shown that "players' heart rates get up to 180 beats per minute and the more professional players do physical training, because it leads to better in performance in game." On top of that, he added, the Olympic Committee was considering the addition of esports to its games for 2024. "This is for kids that want to represent the school and don't have another option," said Moghtaderi.

In a presentation made to the board, proponents said esports could bring numerous advantages to the school, including computer-technical education "crossover," more engagement in the classroom, a "community connection" and inclusion of a "safe place" for students who felt "disconnected from peers or adults."

Utah's Alpine School District has added five esports teams. The participating schools can play three different games: Super Smash Bros., League of Legends and Rocket League. Currently, they compete against each other. According to a news interview with computer programming teacher Audra Yocum, who oversees the playing, the schools are using curriculum developed by the High School Esports League, "that teaches [players] a lot about teamwork and a lot about collaboration and communication."

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About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.