I grew up as a casual gamer, semi-decent in a few games like ‘Yoshi’s Island’ and ‘Rush’. The most intense PC games I’ve ever played are ‘Minesweeper’ and ‘Fragger.’ Sports and gaming weren’t something I thought would be a major part of my career.
If you told me in high school that I would be a computer science and information technology teacher, he wouldn’t believe you. Above all, tell me in high school that he will be heavily involved in growing sports across the state of Utah and he will laugh at you. Seriously-gaming was not on my radar.
But let me tell you how Sports found me – and why I’m so happy.
The year was 2015 and I was fresh from college working part time at a tech company, trying to decide if I would pursue a career in the tech industry, or if I would actually try to find a teaching job to do my job using an education degree. I found a teaching position in an hour that allowed me to keep my other work and it seemed like the best of both worlds when I tried to figure it out.
While teaching, I had a student, Wayne, who came to me looking for a mentor to sponsor a new club: ‘Minecraft Club’. I haven’t been around for a long time, but I knew one thing for sure – games aren’t something schools were looking for. Purposefully Put them on the computer. I wasn’t opposed to helping him run a club, so Wayne and I thought a little more about coming up with a new club idea where Minecraft could be an activity. The name of the new club was “Autism Club.” Owen came up with the idea of running an autistic and a club where the students With or without Autism can combine to make new friends.
Wayne has done a great job of fulfilling the club’s appeal, coming up with a firm purpose and has already begun planning activities. It was fun to make him feel supported in his ideas and then see those ideas come to life. He thrived on this opportunity to become a leader and share his unique perspective on the world with his peers.
The Autism Club had a successful and clearly living up to its defined purpose. I loved teaching and interacting with students so much that when the opportunity arose to go to a nearby school (Pleasant Grove High School) full time, I jumped at it.
At my new school, I didn’t close my classroom door during lunch (which many call a newcomer mistake) and it didn’t take long for students to discover that I would let them hang out in my classroom and play their games. I even allowed them to connect their Wii consoles to monitors, which very quickly created a space for the popular game Super Smash Brothers Ultimate and thus the “Smash Club” was officially born.
What common themes do the Autism Club and the Smash Club share? I was giving a place to gather kids who don’t think they have a place to gather. Most of the students who chose to participate in these clubs were very similar in the sense that they were generally somewhat socially awkward, they were probably not the “best” students academically in school or in traditional sports, but these clubs provided an environment where they Experience, leadership opportunities and even building friendships with students that they might not have been able to communicate during their high school experience.
As a teacher, I could see some unintended positive consequences in the classroom because of this club: students began to recognize me and started asking questions about the courses I taught. Since I was building a relationship with the students through the club, they weren’t so afraid to take a technical course that they wouldn’t have registered otherwise.
I had one student that was in my programming class. So he was not a traditional student, but we had a great relationship. He loved to learn, not what we were learning during class-he loved to come up with his own projects. One evening while sitting at a parent-teacher conference, I received an email from her about a project that she was very disappointed with during class:
“I finally did it Mrs. Yokom !!! It works perfectly as it should !!! I’ll show you on Friday! I’m so engrossed. I found out and fixed what was wrong with that string thing.: D”
I hope my students will see me as their mentor, advocate and cheerleader. It’s because of this email that I teach – it makes it easier to “aha” those moments where students see how great and capable they are. Helping students recognize their talents, and seeing how strong they can be when they have learned to learn successfully.
Two months later, my heart broke when I received the news from my school that this student had committed suicide.
As a brand new teacher, still in my first 5 years in the profession, it was so hard to deal with. I still don’t struggle to talk about this student and just want to tell him how great he is. At her memorial service, while talking to her mother, she said the Smash Club is a place where she felt she had connections and friends.
At that moment, I had my own “aha” moment when I realized that this was the “fun” thing that gave me so much more benefit than gaming.
Whether you call it Autism Club, Smash Club, Gaming Club, Sport, or anything else (we’ve now evolved into the “Cyber Vikings”), meet the students Where they are – Show them that you care, that they are interested in what they are interested in, finding a career that interests them and making it part of your club will make it a success. Remember, I don’t come from a wide gaming background – and these kids aren’t playing frogs. My inexperience has actually been a blessing in disguise, because I had no choice but to do so Really Must be a student-driven club. I provide adult supervision and focus on logistics and team building opportunities, but students move forward to train each other, help each other improve their play, and even hold each other accountable for school work.
During the epidemic, Esports was one of the only activities in Utah that was able to continue, providing a unique way to connect students without the need for personal competition. Now that we’re back in school in person, it’s amazing to see how much students value private club time and how important personal competition was to them. Parents prefer that their children have a structured, social, supervised environment for participation; Administrators like that it builds bridges between inclusive, cyclical and social circles; And students like to play their games and meet new friends with the same interest.
How to get support for an sports program at your school
If you are planning to start sports at your school, I would recommend you to do so. It can be a lot to accept, but don’t compare yourself to programs that have been running for more than a year. One thing to start and grow with your students, choose a game. If they want a YouTube channel, help them learn how to stream. If they want better equipment, encourage them to research how much equipment they want, and then find a sponsor or raise funds for it.
I strongly believe that sports careers and technical education (CTE) are compatible with the ecosystem and would like to see it supported there in a way that highlights related careers. If you haven’t seen the amazing graphic put together by Nico Besombes, I invite you to check it out here. I really appreciate how Nico portrays his career prospects in sports.
There are many great resources available from educators around the world who work to create these programs. One of these resources, the North American Scholastic Sports Federation (NASEF), specifically focuses on the scalastic implementation of esports, with educators creating free curriculum modules through their Scholastic Fellows program. I invite you to reach out to me, NASEF, or any of the Scholastic Fellows. The Scholastic Sports community is very helpful and I know any of us would be happy to discuss the program or answer questions.
We are fortunate to have the support of a local education foundation in Utah, Success in Education, where I am also the Director of Technology Education. I invite you to check out what we’re doing here. Please contact us if you have any questions. In my opinion, “sharing is caring” because we try to do the best we can Us Students