Hickory High School forms esports club

Mar. 28—HERMITAGE — Speaking to a group of several students during a recent meeting, Joe Kulbacki outlined some of his goals for Hickory High School's new eSports Gaming Club — including which games the students can and can't play.

Sometimes the students joked and debated about which games were allowed, from the more safe and cartoonish fighting game "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" to the realistic military shooter "Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege."

But aside from games qualified as safe yet competitive, Kulbacki told the students he hoped the club would help create a sense of community among some of Hickory High School's students.

"In other schools that have already created their own esports clubs, they've found it can be a place for those students that aren't already involved in sports or other extracurricular activities," said Kulbacki, director of instructional technology at the Hermitage School District and the club's adviser.

Work on the esports club began last fall, when Kulbacki first discussed the idea with some students already involved in the high school's cybersecurity class.

During a "club-a-palooza" event at the end of January, interested students collected more than 50 signatures. Hermitage School Board approved the eSports Gaming Club constitution Feb. 20.

"We had a lot of initial signatures, and I'm sure we're going to lose some students based on what games aren't allowed or scheduling conflicts with other programs, but the plan is to grow the club once we get things underway and the word gets out," Kulbacki said.

The club is starting out in a room off the high school's cafeteria, with club members playing games on their own devices. Rules and expectations and club officers will be determined.

Eventually, as camaraderie develops among the club's members and word spreads, students can raise funds or secure sponsorships to buy gaming equipment specifically for the club, Kulbacki said.

Depending on how quickly the club grows, Kulbacki said the club will hopefully lead to a varsity esports team that can compete in the Pennsylvania Scholastic Esports League.

"The club will always be around for kids to get together and game, but we could take the top 12 or so students and they would constitute the varsity team," Kulbacki said.

"However, you'd still have to make sure you show up a certain amount of time and practice with your teammates, or else you won't be allowed to compete — just like any other sport."

Beyond the sense of community and the potential to compete, esports offers students the chance to earn scholarships from universities.

One example would be 2018 Hickory High School graduate A.J. Hammond, who helped the University of Mount Union start its esports team. Hammond now works in the cybersecurity field and is assisting with Hickory High School's esports club, Kulbacki said.

Eighth-grader Logan Milliren and ninth-grader Brayden Klugh expressed interest in serving as club president at the initial meeting.

Outside of school, the two said they normally played exploration games such as "Minecraft" or "Elden Ring," and that they were interested in the esports club due to a combination of their preexisting interest in video games and friends who were also planning to participate.

"I've watched some esports leagues already, so hopefully we can get our own varsity team," Logan said.

Both students agreed they were interesting in helping to develop the club, from recruiting more students to reaching out to local businesses.

"I'd like to see us eventually get some scholarship opportunities," Brayden said.

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