Burrell high school and middle school students have a new sport to celebrate with the addition of a new Esports program that taps into their love of video games.
The Esports program is an after-school activity created to allow students to compete and form relationships over their shared interest in enjoying video games. School leaders say the competitive, team nature of Esports can help students learn the value of teamwork, sportsmanship, and camaraderie.
"The most exciting thing about Esports and video games is they can break barriers," said Travis Welch, assistant principal at Charles A. Huston Middle School. "The cliques and social groups that lead to issues in school are not as prevalent in the digital world. Teams can form from unlikely partners and stereotypes can be broken."
The system is developing two competitive programs — one for the high school, featuring students from grades nine through 12, and another for middle school, consisting of students from grades seven and eight.
Some surrounding school districts have their own Esports teams. The goal is to create a competitive team sport among schools if the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association makes it an official varsity sport. The association has classified Esports as “an emerging sport” to be considered for varsity competition.
The idea for Esports in the Burrell School District emerged from interests expressed by students. School leaders wanted to find another opportunity for students to join an activity through a shared interest and to be proud to represent their school and community in the activity.
Welch and Burrell High School Principal Dr. John Boylan worked with Jennifer Callahan, the district's business administrator, to find the money needed to buy equipment. Boylan attended a meeting to learn about grants offered to help get Esports started. The school leaders then pitched the idea to Burrell Superintendent Dr. Shannon Wagner, who "was 100% on board," Welch said.
School leaders hosted an open meeting at the end of school last year to determine what interest students had in the idea. They were surprised to see the meeting attracted more than 20 high school students and more than 60 middle school students who expressed interest.
Burrell high school students can compete against others and have a chance to earn scholarships. The program will also feature a STEAM focus where students will be researching, designing, and building the equipment used in the room.