BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon-Upshur High School administrators, Upshur County School officials and representatives from Salem University and West Virginia Wesleyan College gathered Friday to unveil a new eSports Learning Lab addition to the school.
Ethan Hayes, who coaches eSports at West Virginia Wesleyan College, said they are hoping to work closely with B-UHS, which funded the lab with a USDA grant of more than $250,000.
“Having eSports athletes on our doorstep is a dream come true,” Hayes said. “We are very excited.”
Electronic Sports, or eSports, is a form of competition using video games and usually takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions. Anthony McDaniels, counselor and eSports director at B-UHS, said the creation of the program will help students by making scholarships available.
“They may have not had the chance to get scholarships otherwise,” Mc Daniels said. “It would help fund their college experience.”
“Salem University is going to have an eSports team, too,” Dr. Eric Kirkland said.
Kirkland partnered with Upshur County Schools and helped write the grant that provided funds for the creation of the eSports Learning Lab and program.
According to a press release, Upshur County Schools, in partnership with Salem University, was awarded a $266,152 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service. The funding provided for the implementation of an eSports lab; distance learning technologies to improve student outcomes; and use by classes across the curriculum to supplement in-person instruction.
The release said in collaboration with B-UHS business and STEM classes, students will gain knowledge and skills through exploration practices relative to streaming, programming, graphic design and management and said students will have opportunities to compete for eSports scholarships for students to pay for college. Many colleges nationwide are offering eSports programs for students that will pave a path to college for those who have never considered obtaining higher education. The release went on to say that eSports encourages communication and coordination amongst student-athletes, as they deepen their levels of interaction to communicate more effectively, readying them for future opportunities.
Stankus said they are excited about the possibilities for students.
“This gives another place where our students can be connected to our schools,” Stankus said. “We have a great athletic program here at the high school and now, we are going to have an eSports Team. I am excited.”
“This is so exciting, and I cannot wait to get the kids in here,” McDaniels said. “They will be here Monday.”
Kirkland said there will be a similar lab at Salem University.
Stankus said the lab will also serve as a place where evening college courses can be offered.
“We can use this for college courses and dual credit courses – there are so many possibilities for this lab,” Stankus said. “We are so thankful for this lab. We could not have done it without Mr. McDaniels. Also, thank you Mr. Pollock. We have great innovative leadership here at B-UHS.”
Pollock said the new eSports Lab and Program was set into motion in the last couple of years.
“We were setting up a distance learning lab and eSports Competition Lab,” Pollack explained. “This has been in development by the West Virginia Department of Education, the CTE side, for about the last three or four years. ESports is getting more notoriety and more monies and more opportunities. We are very fortunate we were able to hop onto this grant opportunity and get this because opportunities are available after high school, and there are more opportunities for programs and scholarships that are related to this program. There is money to be made, and it is a huge athletic event, outside of the regular athletics. There are huge competitions and our students now have a chance to take part in this. We can use this lab for a multitude of things.”
McDaniels said the dedication and opening of the new space is a fantastic opportunity for students.
“It is not just the kids that are built athletic that can do this,” McDaniels said. “This is all-inclusive. I just want students to come and have fun. I want students to be happy, to be healthy and to be in here enjoying an after-school program that can take them somewhere – it can offer them scholarships.”
McDaniels said the lab will offer students the opportunity to learn how to build and rebuild computers.
“It is skills they will take into their future lives,” he said. “When they are older, they can fix their computers that short circuit – it teaches critical thinking and problem solving. Those involved in eSports show an academic progress – you see a climbing of academics as they play these games and get inclusive in the teams – there is a huge climb in their schoolwork.”
He said they received the equipment for the lab in December.
“We started getting it all organized and we have tried to make the Lab as accessible and COVID safe as possible,” McDaniels said. “We wanted to make sure the kids could all be involved and be safe.”
McDaniels said he sent out letters to students to begin recruiting participants in January.
“I want to help set up our students for success,” McDaniels said. “My goal is to set our students up for success using this lab. This brings another opportunity to students in our schools who may have been looked over. Not everyone is athletic, but it doesn’t mean they can’t get on here and improve their lives.”
According to the release, eSport Learning Laboratories are expanding throughout West Virginia. ESports gives students in West Virginia who may not normally get involved in traditional athletics the opportunity to get involved with the school in a team-based atmosphere.