YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown City School District plans a new sports team this upcoming school year, and students don’t need to be athletes to participate.
The East High School Golden Bears esports team will begin competing this fall, and participation is open to students in grades nine through 12 from East High School, Chaney High School and Youngstown Rayen Early College.
Charles Stark, who teaches 10th-grade geometry at East High School, is the district’s esports program developer.
Stark said the sport provides opportunities for students to develop their collaboration and creative skills.
“We believe students will work hard academically to qualify for a spot on our team,” Stark said in a news release. “It gives a traditionally underserved group of scholars a reason to come to school and prioritize their education.”
To participate, students must meet academic and attendance requirements just like in athletic programs. Students also have to try out and be selected for the team. Plans for the program call for 28 students for the first year.
The district may expand to offer a team at each high school in the future, as well as grow the number of members on the Golden Bears team.
CEO Justin Jennings said esports provides another way for students to get involved in school beyond the classroom.
“We want our scholars to be involved in extracurricular activities and sports as another way to increase engagement with the scholars themselves and with families as well,” Jennings said.
The new team will be part of Esports Ohio, which includes teams across the state.
Teams will compete after school in four games: "Rocket League," "Fortnite," "SuperSmash Bros." and "Overwatch," all of which are rated for teens or younger participants.
There is no charge to players although fundraising may be required.
Games will be played in a room at East High School with Youngstown students facing off against teams from high schools across Ohio. The room is being outfitted with computers, gaming consoles, monitors, headsets and other equipment. Each team member will also get a team jersey.
Since competitions are online, travel will be limited.
Students will be transported from Chaney High School and Youngstown Rayen Early College to East High School after school, and then all of the players will be transported home after games and practices.
Unlike other athletics, esports is co-ed, and because its requirements are not physical, barriers for students with physical limitations are few.
“Supporting esports in schools helps students to learn valuable lessons and life skills,” said Josh Knutson, esports and virtual reality solutions director at ByteSpeed LLC, the company through which YCSD is buying esports equipment. “We’ve heard from many students that esports has allowed them to find a community to call home.”
Many colleges and universities offer scholarships for esports.