Previously, I wrote a story about how scholastic gaming produced trusting relationships between students and adults. Today, I would like to share a story about a student who demonstrated incredible personal growth while participating in scholastic gaming.
Spring 2019: We are planning our first ever LAN-event as an esports program. It is a charity Super Smash Bros. tournament we were calling “Smash Out Cancer,” to take place in the school library. A student asked if they could invite some friends from another school in the district, and after verifying with my administration, we said, “Yes!”
Not long after the invitation was extended, I received a long email from a concerned mother of a student at the other school. The concerns were not for the reasons I expected, such as screen time, violence, etc. Her daughter, a sophomore, had significant social anxiety, but the Super Smash Bros. club at her school was the one place where she felt like she could socialize. The mother asked if there were any girls in our club, and if “Gabby” could sit near the edge of the group when we started playing. She was sensitive to overstimulation, and her mother was concerned that she did not see other girls gaming at her home school. I said, “Of course! I’ll do my best."
The day came. Gabby enjoyed playing the games, but as expected, didn’t socialize much beyond the kids she knew from her school. I placed another girl that I knew well into her group, and while she tried to chat with Gabby, she didn’t get a lot back. Still, my photographer caught a candid photo of Gabby smiling and playing games with other kids, which her Mom appreciated.
We held a similar event over the summer to fundraise for the esports club, and we invited everyone who attended the first tournament. I was pleased to see that Gabby again chose to come. She’d now seen mostly everyone there before, and I think this helped her open up a little bit. She socialized a bit more. At this event, I learned she was transferring to our school in the Fall.
Fall 2019: Gabby attended almost every club meeting we held. She wasn’t interested in playing with us in the High School Esports League, but she enjoyed taking on the responsibilities of “team manager.” She was very welcoming of underclassmen, our more socially awkward kids, and the girls. She really blossomed as a junior. In our club census, where we sought student testimonials to help us apply for grants and a school budget, Gabby wrote:
[Esports Club] has given me a place to be myself and feel like all the weight of trying to be what others want me to be is off my chest. It’s given me a reason to get up every day and try again to make friends because I know there is people [sic] out there that like games.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and we all were sent home that spring. However, our club continued to host weekly club meetings and a game-a-thon charity fundraiser over the Spring. Gabby was a regular in our discord. In fact, I think she felt even more comfortable socializing behind the screen.
Gabby applied to join the esports student leadership team her senior year and was accepted in a heartbeat. As a student-leader, she led club meetings and specifically focused on including girls and underclassmen in activities. Even though she chose not to participate with our competitive team in HSEL, she enjoyed her roles as team manager and club leader. She also served as our graphic designer for jerseys, hallway posters, and senior photos. You would not have known that this outstanding senior student leader was the silent girl hiding in the corner just two years prior.
In an interview with the school’s broadcast class, Gabby said:
[Esports Club] has given me a place to go, because I’m not good at making friends. So coming here…it felt like shelter. And with so many people, to just…be with you, it’s really nice.
I was so proud of how much Gabby grew over the little more than two years I knew her. A significant part of that was connecting with other students and adults over something as simple as video games and esports. Esports allowed her to connect with the school community.
Gabby now attends a local university on an esports scholarship!
Neal Doolin spent eight years teaching all levels of mathematics from Intervention Algebra through AP Calculus BC as well as General Physics in Overland Park, KS. Neal founded his school’s esports program in 2018 and was the head coach for three years.
Neal was fortunate to be selected as his school’s 2018 Teacher of the Year, 2019 Master Teacher of the Year, and for a 2020 University of Kansas Wolfe Family Teaching Award. Neal is now the Director of Platform Operations for Generation Esports and serves as the secretary for the High School Esports League Board of Directors.
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