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Legislators seek grants for schools to establish esports programs
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Legislators seek grants for schools to establish esports programs

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RACINE — The explosion of popularity in esports has led a local state legislator to seek a program that funnels grant money to state schools to establish esports programs.

Many of the schools in Racine County have already established esports programs.

On Monday, state Rep. Tip McGuire, D-Somers, who represents a portion of southeast Racine County, and state Rep. Kalan Haywood, D-Milwaukee, introduced LRB-3801, creating a grant program for Wisconsin schools to establish esports programs.

“I am excited to introduce legislation today that creates an opportunity for Wisconsin schools to offer esports to our students,” McGuire said. “Esports allow students to play and compete, and build useful skills like strategic problem-solving and teamwork.”

McGuire noted that esports — i.e. video-game-based competitions — are a rapidly growing field that provides a competitive environment that can be more inclusive than traditional athletic events.

Racine Unified’s Walden III was the first high school in the state to form an esports team in 2016. Since then, the rest of Unified’s high schools have formed teams, and all of them competed at the state level this winter.

The REAL School team finished second in the state in Division 3 for the game Overwatch and the Horlick High School team finished second in Division 1, also for Overwatch. The Horlick team also received the Wisconsin High School Esports Association Sportsmanship Award.

Waterford High School started its esports team in 2017-18. Burlington High School and Union Grove High School both started their teams in fall 2019.

Scholarships up for grabs

According to McGuire, at the beginning of the 2018 school year, there were 128 colleges/universities offering approximately $15 million in scholarships related to esports. In five years, that number is expected to rise to 800 colleges/universities and $100 million in scholarships.

“The passage of this bill would be a critical step in positioning Wisconsin as a leader in the global esports industry,” said James O’Hagan, Racine educator and founder of the Academy of Esports.

“With a projected $100 million in collegiate scholarships by 2023, the funds in this bill will ensure equitable access to this extraordinary opportunity for our state’s students and place Wisconsin at the forefront of the national conversation about education and esports.”

In December, Gateway Technical College announced that it planned to start an esports club in January, becoming just the second technical college in the state to offer esports.

Gateway officials said a team will be created from club members to compete against other college and high school teams.

According to Gateway, six colleges in Wisconsin have competitive esports teams, with three more announcing they will begin this semester.

The University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Somers is preparing to offer an esports program in the fall.

“We’re working on putting the physical presence together here at UW-Parkside,” said Jim McPhaul, Parkside associate lecturer and director of the Small Business Development Center. “But more importantly to bring esports into our curriculum to show how it can be a benefit to the business society.”

Carthage College in Kenosha does not have an esports program but plans to offer an esports course in one of its master’s programs in the fall, according to college spokesman Brandon Rook.

Eric Doherty, Gateway’s director of IT-user experience and the club’s adviser, said at least 15 area high schools have competitive esports teams, so it’s natural for the college to offer similar teams to meet the interest of students who transfer out of high school and into Gateway.

“There’s a lot of interest in this,” Doherty said. “And it’s more than just playing video games. It’s a competitive atmosphere, which develops leadership and team-building skills, as well.”

Journal Times reporter Caitlin Sievers contributed to this report.

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Caitlin Sievers covers education in Racine County with a primary focus on Racine Unified School District. Before moving to the Racine area she worked at small papers in Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska.

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