By Ryan Fitzmaurice
Lovell Chronicle Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Lovell school board approves competitive video gaming

 

June 15, 2023



LOVELL — In a 5-1 vote, the school board of Big Horn County School District No. 2 approved the creation of Esports, or competitive video gaming, for the next school year during its June 12 regular meeting.

With Rebecca Moncur absent and Marianne Grant casting a no vote, the school board passed the new program hoping to get children often missed by other extra-curricular activities engaged within the school.

When Lovell High School Principal Craig Lundberg first brought up the idea to the board in its regular April meeting, he said that approximately 85 percent of students participate in extracurricular activities, and engaging in extracurricular activities substantially increases the likelihood of a student’s academic success. Lundberg said he expects that adding Esports will push the extracurricular participation rate to the mid-90 percentile.

There are a number of high school athletic associations that sanction Esports, Lundberg said, and even a smattering of school districts in Wyoming that already offer the option.

Esports is not a sanctioned sport by the Wyoming High School Activities Association and the program will be run on a volunteer basis, Lundberg said.

On Monday evening, Lundberg again presented to the board, stating that a committee had been formed to research the idea. The committee included parents Megan Wilson and Janet Prosser, along with school faculty Josey Allen, Keath Fenton, Tera Kostalecky and Brandon Weiss.

Lundberg said the committee researched positives and negatives to the idea, as well as strategies the high school could implement to mitigate any negatives inherent within the activity.

Among concerns, Lundberg said, is that if the program is not properly managed students may not be able to maintain a balance between Esports and academics. Lundberg also acknowledged that the additional screen time the activity may create for students is also a worthy concern.

But, he said, those concerns have not changed his mind about the positive effect the activity

the positive effect the activity might have on high school students.

“This is the reason I am advocating for this. Esports can significantly enhance student engagement in high school. It attracts students who may not be interested in traditional sports or extracurricular activities, offering them an alternative outlet for involvement,” Lundberg said. “Esport programs provide a space for students to pursue their interest, form social connections and develop a sense of identity within the school community. The excitement and enthusiasm created by Esports can increase overall student engagement, school spirit and a sense of involvement by those participating.”

Lundberg said there is a demographic of students in the high school who cannot find an avenue to get involved within existing extracurricular activities.

“We do have a certain demographic of kids who don’t feel like they are a part of the student body; they don’t feel like they are a part of something,” he said. “We had 20-25 kids show up at our first official meeting, and it spanned the whole gamut of kids in the school and that included some of those kids who wouldn’t do anything. We all know kids who participate (have a higher chance of graduating).”

Lundberg addressed a question from board member Deb Fink asking if any of the video games offered for students will be violent. Lundberg said all titles are chosen in coordination with the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“They don’t involve first-person shooters or anything like that,” Lundberg said.

Games students play may include selections like Rocket League, NBA 2K23, Hearthstone, Overwatch 2, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros., Splatoon 3, Madden 23 and League of Legends, according to Lundberg. Teams compete against each other in real time.

Grant spoke in opposition to the proposal, stating that she believes the district would be endorsing a practice that has a negative impact on the quality of students’ lives.

“I think reaching out to all of the students is a great idea. We need to make sure each child feels included and important. I do not feel Esports is the answer,” Grant said. “Before we jump into this, we need to brainstorm with interest surveys from parents and students and find a more productive activity for this group to be involved in.”

Grant said students already are over-exposed to screens in their daily lives, and she fears the social and mental damage that over-exposure is causing.

“Gaming companies have done a lot of research to make these games addictive,” Grant said. “Rocket League (offered within the Esports program) is the number one addictive game they made. While it is good for their sales, it is not good for our children’s brain development.”

Grant said that the recommended screen time for a child is two hours a day, a number the average teenager is already far exceeding with an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes of screentime a day, not including school activities.

“Adding to that does not make sense to me,” she said.

Grant said that excess screen time can lead to trouble sleeping, increased symptoms of depression and anxiety and obstacles to developing social skills.

“There’s still studies being done,” she said. “We don’t know what kind of damage we could do.”

Lundberg said that according to school psychologist Brandon Weiss, who is on the Esports committee, the jury is still out on the specific impacts extended screen time might have on a child, with existing data premature and inconclusive.

Prosser spoke up as a parent and committee member to advocate for the creation of the program.

“Both of my kids attended the meeting, and they both are participants in outdoor sports. I had an older kid who participated in none of that. That was not his style. He was socially awkward. He felt completely alienated in high school. When he looks back at high school, he is not a happy camper,” she said. “This is something he could have done, would have participated in. It would have drawn him out and helped him make better social connections.”

Prosser said the negatives would be mitigated due to the activity taking place in the school environment.

“I just think one of the goals of a school is to meet kids where they are at. You have some kids who are at home playing with computers. Bring them in, meet them where they are at,” she said. “I don’t think you are going to get them saying we have football, basketball and soccer. You have to provide something that interests them already to get them here, and then you are going to engage them, and they are going to graduate high school.”

This story was published on June 15, 2023.

 
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