DAVENPORT, IOWA (June 22, 2022) — Davenport Schools students are excelling at a new kind of sports competition, one that takes them to different realities, finds them in battles with monstrous creatures, and pits them against daunting tasks that sometimes defy the very laws of time and space.

Esports, competitive video gaming, has become a huge industry over the past decade, with many schools across the world founding their own teams to compete against rival schools.

During that time, Davenport Community School District has become one of the top esports programs in the country and it’s more than just a bunch of kids sitting around eating Takis, talking smack, and playing Fortnite. The gamers in the DCSD esports program are Iowa State Champions, with over 150 student participants, and over $1.2 million in esports scholarship offers since the group’s inception in 2018.

Esports is one of leading extracurriculars at DCSD in terms of student and classroom engagement, with one of the fastest-growing programs in the state, one which has gained national recognition.

Alene Vandermyde is TLCS Tech Innovator at DCSD and the founder of the state-wide organization for high-school esports, a robotics coach who became a gaming guru.

“It all started in 2018, when one of my students, Matt Runke, asked me to be the teacher-sponsor for his HSEL League of Legends team,” Vandermyde said. “After this experience went poorly, we talked about other options and things we could play through. We, then, participated in several in person competitions over the next fall semester.

“As we found ourselves wanting a great experience in competition, I decided, in the Spring of 2019, to send an e-mail to every athletic director in the state to see if they wanted to join up and make an esports organization. It was then the Iowa High School Esports Association was born. I served as Planning Team Committee Chair and then as inaugural president of the organization. As my term ended as president, I stepped into the national conversation.”

Davenport Community School District has likewise followed into that esports dialogue across the country.

“We have won two state titles, 2019-2020 school year; we won the Fall Smash Brothers: Ultimate state championship and the Winter Overwatch state championship. We have been to the play-offs an additional three times in the past two years,” Vandermyde said. “We compete in two titles per season with three seasons. Games are played with all our students at our school against other schools that are also all together — just against each other online. We livestream these matches, right now, at bit.ly/dchslive.”

As the program has leveled up, DCSD, and Vandermyde, have been honored in a number of other ways.

“I have won the 2020 National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors (NAECAD) High School Director of the Year,” Vandermyde said. “I founded the Iowa High School Esports Association in 2019, serving as the Planning Committee Chair and then inaugural president for the 2020-2021 school year. From there, I was elected to serve as the Iowa representative on the National Planning Committee and am now a founding member of and was elected unanimously by my state level peers to serve as inaugural president of the Interstate Scholastic Esports Alliance (the national org for K-12 associations). I serve on the advisory board for NAECAD and have served as a master clinician for new esports coaches for Esports Canada and NAECAD.

“In addition, I have presented at multiple conferences on esports on topics ranging from starting your own team to addressing toxicity in esports.”

Along those lines, she says, the teams are fairly evenly split among genders, and there is an inclusive vibe throughout the esports program. Perhaps not surprisingly then, the program has been one of the fastest-growing extracurriculars in the district, and students take it seriously, she said.

“All students must sign a Code of Conduct and guardians must sign a media release and permission form. There are three levels that students can get involved with — Varsity, JV, and Club. Varsity is your set of students that practice just like other varsity teams and compete weekly,” Vandermyde said. “JV teams have a looser practice schedule, with competitions weekly. Club is more of a controlled-chaos situation. Students who may want to learn the game, or don’t have time in their schedule to commit to a team and their practice schedule, but still want to come. The students all love it. They come back again and again.”

Is this something that gets a lot of recognition around the school? Are the esports kids considered demigods of the controllers, given the ubiquitous popularity of video games?

“Within Davenport Central — yes,” Vandermyde said. “However, outside of the building, no. “

However, that’s changing.

“We have had several students offered full ride scholarships for esports,” Vandermyde said. “Locally, St Ambrose, Augustana, and Western Illinois all have school-sponsored teams. EICC has a club team, that is currently being run by one of my former students.

“Students get scholarships in a couple of different ways, and this is one of the places that scholastic esports as a whole is working on improving,” Vandermyde added. “Right now, there are multiple recruitment websites that students can upload gameplay onto and create a player-profile for college recruiters to see. We also have personal connections to colleges and universities. Because I am connected with a lot of programs on a more national scale, I can send play tape specifically to coaches in programs where I know students will be good fits.”

Which games are the most popular?

“We host Smash Brothers: Ultimate Crew Battles, Overwatch, Rocket League, Minecraft Olympics, Smite, NBA2K, and Mario Kart in our arena,” she said. “Popularity of games ebbs and flows with the season.”

Does the school have a special room for gaming with various rigs and such?

“Yes. Central High School hosts our Esports Arena in its own space,” Vandermyde said. “The computers, Switches, Xboxes, and Playstations are all only for the esports team. This helps to ensure that students are only on these devices during approved times.”

Do the kids get a varsity letter or anything like that for being on the esports team?

“That was the plan; however, that has not been implemented yet,” Vandermyde said. “The goal is for them to do so next year.”

Vandermyde admits that before getting involved she enjoyed videogames but doesn’t call herself a big gamer. “In my community, I’m the least gamer,” she said.

However, it does make her proud to see the kids be a part of a growing community working together and playing together to create something awesome.

“Not to get cheesy and cliché on you, but this is my passion. I get to see kids come out of their shells and find their communities,” Vandermyde said. “For these students, they find the other kids whose weird matches their weird. That makes me feel amazing to provide that experience and witness those moments.

“I am going to pull this off DCHS’s code of conduct, but our mission statement for esports has been: The purpose of the Davenport Central High School Esports team is to create community among people who love videogames and competing against other Iowa schools. We want to foster a place where everyone, regardless of race, creed, gender, or skill level, can come and have a good time together,” she added. “We have stuck to that creed since we were founded on the idea of community over competition — but competition is fun too.”

For more information about the program, see bit.ly/dchslive  and https://www.davenportschools.org/departments/athletics-and-extracurricular-activities/.

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