Earning your varsity letter for playing video games? It could happen

Several state high school athletic associations looking into esports

By Keith Dunlap - Graham Media Group

For traditionalists who want kids to be active and exercising, this is a thought that will make them cringe: It's possible that high school students could earn a varsity letter for playing video games.

Plenty of state athletic associations around the country are looking into the option.

In fact, seven state athletic associations have adopted esports as an activity — though not as an official sport — and even more are considering doing so, said Mark Koski, an administrator for the National Federation of State High School Associations and the CEO of the NFHS Network.

Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Rhode Island are state associations that are experimenting with esports as an activity, and by the end of this school year, Koski said, anywhere from 16 to 18 state associations will get on board.

All of this begs the obvious question: Why would state associations look into this, given that esports don't feature physical exercise as the traditional sports do?

There are actually some logical reasons, experts say.

 

One, state associations are always in love with participation numbers, and introducing esports could be a way to boost those figures.

Koski said participation nationwide is 12 million athletes, and the NFHS would like to see that go up to 13 million.

“Esports, we believe, (are) a way for us to grow at a rapid pace,” Koski said.

Two, playing esports are a way to keep kids in an after-school activity within the structure of school halls.

“These particular students are currently going home after school and playing video games,” Koski said. “At the end of the day, we would much rather (they) be under the direction of a teacher or a coach that can teach them not only (to be) a great video gamer, but also a lifelong positive citizen.”

Finally, proponents of esports feel that gaming can still instill the same life lessons in children that traditional sports do.

Andy Frushour, an administrator for the Michigan High School Athletic Association, which hasn’t adopted esports as an activity, but is heavily monitoring how it works for other associations and the NFHS, said the team component of esports is appealing.

“The old-school people would say, 'They are not out there sweating, so this isn’t a sport,'” Frushour said. “But we definitely know that eSports are not one-on-one games, but team games. They are five-versus-five-type games. It takes a lot of communication, a lot of strategy, a lot of practice, a lot of leadership and teamwork. They practice for hours on end. A lot of the same kind of things you see in traditional sports, you see with esports. Certainly, we don’t want the visual of kids sitting around, playing video games and not being active. But there are definitely some learning lessons you can get out (of) esports.”

In email responses, Florida High School Athletic Association Executive Director George Tomyn and Kate Hector, media coordinator for the Texas University Interscholastic League, each said their governing organizations were not looking into esports as a sanctioned sport at this time.

In another email response, Virginia High School League Executive Director Billy Haun said the VHSL is reviewing what other states and the NFHS are doing with esports. 

All images copyright Getty Images

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