Grant funding helps support growth of esports program

Williamsport Area School District  |  Posted on

With a continued focus on preparing students for industries of the future, Williamsport Area Middle School (WAMS) is building on an esports program where students can put their gaming skills to the test and compete against other esports teams from other schools across the state — all thanks to some recent grant funding.

Sanctioned through the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Esports Association (PIEA), the extracurricular activity “is rapidly growing in K-12 education as a path for building science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) and social-emotional skills while increasing student engagement and opportunities for student inclusion,” according to Intel. “Today, many colleges and universities have esports intramural teams or offer esports degrees.”

Allowing students to form teams and participate, train and compete in organized gaming competitions and tournaments, the program at WAMS also instructs “students in sportsmanship, teamwork, and safe, ergonomic game-playing techniques and strategies to stay healthy while gaming,” according to teacher Bob Rook, who oversees the program alongside colleagues Whitney Grimm and Ashley Muchler.

The middle school esports program is made up of three components:

  • About 20-25 students attend a weekly club to learn about esports opportunities and participate in some gaming.
  • Intramural tournaments are held daily during the school’s Millionaire Block, a period designated for club time, during which the entire student body is eligible to participate.

“Last fall, we had 27 two-player teams compete in a Rocket League tournament,” Rook said. “We are currently in the midst of 32-team two-player team NFL Madden tournament.”

  • Lastly, the school participates in an after-school esports league in which it competes against other schools across the state. Last fall, its Rocket League team went 3-2 in their five-game season.

“We have lots of plans to expand our program here at WAMS and also hope that it will carry on at the high school level,” Rook said. “Our intent in building up the esports program here at WAMS is to increase student engagement in activities in the building.”

To give the program a boost, Rook reached out to the Williamsport Area School District Education Foundation, which facilitated the receipt of a $17,369 venture grant from the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania through Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) donations received from C&N, First National Bank of PA, M&T Bank, High Industries, UPMC Health Plan and Woodlands Bank.

The grant funds allowed Rook and his team to purchase the basic equipment — such as high-powered computers and monitors for gaming, chairs, tables, controllers, and PIEA-approved games — to outfit an “esports arena” in one of the school’s former computer labs.

“With our new space, we hope to participate in three different leagues: Rocket League, Super Smash Brothers and Overwatch 2 beginning at the end of the month,” Rook said. “Our plan is to expand eligibility to all students in the school to participate in the after-school portion of the program. Much like basketball, football, etc., we hope to have signups, tryouts and practices to try to put our best team or teams forward.”