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The South Tama esports team pose for a photo before their first state tournament in their first year as a program. Photo by Cyote Williams

How STC went from gaming club to state tournament

Esports is one of the fastest growing sports not only in the United States, but worldwide.

In 2018, the National Federation of State High School Associations recognized esports as an official sport. According to the National Education Association, more than 8,600 high schools now have recognized esports programs at the high school level.

Once seen as a joke and an excuse for teenagers to play video games in their spare time, esports has become a legitimate profession with programs popping up at major colleges and some even offering scholarships. complete.

South Tama County High School, under coaches Mike Carnahan and Daniel Kass, is one of the newest additions to the growing sport. The video game club has been in high school for 15 years, which normally had just implemented various gaming systems and played one night a month until last fall.

Coaches Daniel Kass, left, and Mike Carnahan, right, show off the back grips of the program’s first jerseys. Photo by Cyote Williams.

Superintendent Jared Smith emailed after getting wind of the Iowa High School Esports Association (IHSEA), wanting to know if there was any interest in joining a team.

“He was really supportive of that,” said coach Mike Carnahan. “When we heard this news, we kind of jumped on it.”

With the idea planted in the minds of the coaches, it was time to recruit and build a team that would be able to compete. There was no pressure on members of the already established gaming club to join, and those who were interested were given the opportunity. If they weren’t interested, they could stay in the club.

“We had one of our gamers nights and had a Mario Kart tournament. We saw who was doing really well and we mentioned ‘Hey, we’re thinking of joining IHSEA and Mario Kart would be the first game available for us.” And it looked like we had a number of people excited to play. Coach Kass said.

“The two clubs support each other and look alike, but they will continue to coexist side by side,” he added. Carnahan added.

Four of the student-athletes who made the team and were available for commentary were Sam Heck, Isaac Shuckahosee, Corbin Bergman and Nolan Salas.

“I didn’t expect the school to be able to play video games competitively,” says Bergmann.

“It appeals to a completely different audience, because a lot of people love video games, no matter what audience you belong to. It brings us all together,” Shuckahosee added.

“You can be recognized for your skills in the game. You can be good at a game, and no one will know because you are alone. Being able to perform in front of people, you will be able to get recognition from people,” Salas said.

It was clear that this team of Trojans were more than up to the challenge in their first year competing at IHSEA. After the first two weeks of the season, South Tama were at the top of their division. Each team will have more difficult stretches of the season, as well as easier stretches.

The Trojans played against some of the easiest competition they would face early on, which gave them the confidence to maintain their performance up there with the more established teams in their division.

“We are one of the best teams. We definitely are, and we started getting excited about the idea of ​​a state tournament, which became pretty exciting news throughout the school,” said Carnahan.

When you’re involved in a growing sport, it can be difficult to build excitement in your community, especially with esports, which are notorious for raising the ire of the average sports fan.

This wasn’t a problem for the Trojans, however, as mobs began to fill the STC communes later in the season.

“Especially towards the end of the season when we were posting our results on Facebook, I think our crowds started to fill up more and more,” Kass said.

“It caught me off guard” Salas added. “The support isn’t something I expected, especially since I’ve seen a lot of things on Facebook where people were put off by this. My mum was reading comments saying things like ‘It’ is so dumb”. That’s not a good idea. Why would we want people to care about video games even more?”

“It’s a little mind-boggling the support we’re getting and the participations we’ve had,” Shuckaosee added.

“I’m surprised that even some staff are in favor of it. The principles, there are a lot of people who support us,” heck said. “I think the possibility of getting these kids to play in a sport that wasn’t offered, and people started to take it more and more seriously, and started to see immediate success, and it doesn’t s It’s not just about being successful. But getting that first part is cool to see that people are interested in seeing it. Having that atmosphere is cool too.

“Seeing this excitement not just from our own players, but also from our fans and our parents, was really cool,” Kass said.

Athletes from other spring sports noticed the success of the esports program and showed their support as they normally would for one of the school’s traditional sports.

Being able to be part of this side of school can be beneficial for those athletes involved in esports.

“They (spring sports athletes) treat our athletes the same way they would treat any other athlete,” said Carnahan. “I can’t stress how important this is for our athletes. It’s created this place for a certain group of kids who aren’t involved in anything else. It was great to see these kids feel like they were part of a team, they got to wear the jersey, they felt like they belonged and something to connect them to the school district.

A common complaint among those not involved in esports is that it will continue to introvert their children or neighbors into a world already dominated by technology. However, it is also a unique opportunity for people to get involved in their school and to be part of a team.

“Their reasons are usually wrong. They will say “It makes them even more disconnected from the real world”. On the contrary, it gets us out more than before – it gets me out of the house,” says Bergmann.

“People will say video games don’t build skills, but it builds teamwork, trust and communication.” Shuckaosee added.

“Those who are more introverted, they can be themselves with people”, Salas said.

“My parents said as long as you do everything right, we don’t care.” Hek said.

Referring to the team’s ability to get involved in other games like Super Smash Bros in the future, Bergman said “Smash Bros isn’t the kind of game I like, but I’m still going to be in esports and support the team because I like the team aspect.”

A high school esports program can be similar to athletics in this regard. Everyone is part of the same team and supports each other while participating in events that are not related to each other.

This is just the start of esports at South Tama, with a program firmly established in its first competitive season and a team ready to lay the groundwork for years to come.

“I’m really excited to see where this takes us as a district, and I’m really proud of all of these athletes, to see them find a home and find this opportunity to be successful and the teamwork is pretty awesome at watch “, Kass said.

Carnahan’s assessment of the first season is overwhelmingly positive.

“They always tell you in education that the most important thing you can do is build relationships with your students and I really feel like all of our businesses are doing a good job and esports is just going further for students who haven’t felt that connection yet,” he said. “I’m really proud of that and proud to be a part of it. I’m excited, I’m happy, and I want to thank the student-athletes who put in the time and effort. And I want to thank coach Kass because he’s leaving next year and certainly thanks to the parents and supporters that we saw. It just created such an atmosphere that is so much fun.

Youth sports are about creating friendships, skills and memories that will last a lifetime. Esports is another way to include students in this foundational experience that allows them to gain those building blocks for the future that they would otherwise miss out on.

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