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Florida schools may add competitive video gaming to their sports lineup

More than half of the schools surveyed said they would be interested in offering esports to students if the FHSAA sanctions the games.
Yaroslav Astakhov
More than half of the schools surveyed said they would be interested in offering esports to students if the FHSAA sanctions the games.

The Florida High School Athletic Association could potentially sanction competitive video gaming, or esports, as an official sport, amid growing interest from member schools.

The FHSAA Board of Directors held a discussion about esports during a meeting in Gainesville on Monday, with talks focusing on the share of Florida schools that would be interested in offering programs if the games are sanctioned as an official sport.

The organization distributed a survey and received responses from 425 schools, which accounted for 58% of its combination and senior high schools.

“Two questions were about current participation and interest, while several other questions were asked to guide future research and decision making, if necessary,” a document included in the board’s agenda said.

Overall, 26.4% of schools that responded reported sponsoring an esports team or club. Of that overall number, 24.9% of public schools have teams or clubs, while 25.2% of private schools and 39.1% of charter schools said they have such programs.

The FHSAA requires at least 20% of schools in at least two of its four “sections” or regions of the state offering a sport in order for it to be eligible for sanctioning.

Interest in offering esports is high among the member schools that did not report having programs.

More than half — 54.6% — of the schools surveyed said they would be interested in offering esports to students if the FHSAA sanctioned the games. Nearly 50% of public schools surveyed indicated interest, while more than 56% of private schools and 82% of charter schools expressed interest.

Of the state’s four FHSAA regional sections, schools in Section 4 encompassing South Florida expressed the highest level of interest at 69%.

FHSAA board member Trevor Berryhill, who also is the athletic director for Oviedo private school The Master’s Academy, was among the members who voiced support for sanctioning esports.

“Last year we had a student get a scholarship to Florida State (University) in esports. He also is a part of their NIL (name, image and likeness) collective,” Berryhill said, referring to student-athletes at the collegiate level being able to earn money from business agreements such as endorsement deals.

“So it’s just another opportunity for kids to be involved in something,” Berryhill added.

The FSU Esports program is a student-run organization, according to its website, that “provides a foundation for our school's many competitive gaming teams.”

Esports programs also are increasingly being recognized by sanctioning bodies across the country.

There are 21 states that are members of the National Federation of State High School Associations that have sanctioned esports in their schools, according to FHSAA documents. Southeastern states that have signed off on the programs include Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.

Gulf County Schools Superintendent David Norton also backed the idea of sanctioning esports, calling the proposal a “win-win” for the FHSAA and saying he hopes the board will “move forward on this sooner than later.”

“This would be a way for us to reach us and bring some more student athletes in,” Norton, who also serves on the board, said during Monday’s meeting.

FHSAA officials did not indicate during Monday’s discussion when a potential decision could be finalized on sanctioning e-sports, but said the organization is in the early stages of the process. The next step would be requesting official petitions from member schools that would announce their intent to add esports programs.

The News Service of Florida