Model Schools recognize Phoenix esports program

The Phoenix Central School District’s esports program is providing students with high-tech opportunities in the world of gaming, earning recognition from competitors and colleagues across the state. As a result, the CiTi Instructional Technology Support (ITS): Model Schools Program has named the PCSD esports initiative as its program in the spotlight for November.

Since the PCSD’s inception of esports in January 2020 — as the first of its kind in Oswego County — the offering has created numerous opportunities for students who may not otherwise participate in extracurricular activities.

“The esports program gets students involved in an activity — some of these students are not into sports, art, music or band — it gives them something to belong to,” said Katha Halstead, one of Phoenix’s esports coaches. “It also gives those students a way to show their talents and meet others that they may not have met otherwise.”

Halstead and fellow coaches Kelly Pelton, Kristy Ryan and Corey Szyikowski marveled at the level of student engagement in the program. Through esports, students can participate in video game competitions against other students across the country, working in three or five-person teams to achieve various gaming tasks as part of the STEM accredited program. According to coach Ryan, while many of the competitions are done remotely, there are also opportunities for in-person action.

“Two of our Rocket League teams recently competed in Elite Gaming's in person competition at the OnCenter,” Ryan said. “That was a great experience, and the kids are definitely hoping to do that again soon.”

Beyond competing at the high school level, students can also pursue esports upon graduation. Ryan and coach Kelly Pelton noted there are plenty of post-secondary esports programs at local colleges such as SUNY Canton, Keuka College and Syracuse University.    

“Esports can continue at the college level, which is a great opportunity for students to meet others with the same interest,” Pelton said. “Students can also receive scholarships to play while furthering their education.”

While current participants envision a potential future in esports, current Phoenix staff members are already envisioning the program’s future. PCSD’s Director of Data and Instructional Technology, Mike Foley, said the district continues to explore ways to provide students with innovative programs. He also praised the esports coaches and the entire technology team for their collaboration on the initiative.

“The staff is incredibly committed to ensuring our students have fantastic learning opportunities,” Foley said. “I am proud of everyone for all the behind-the-scenes work to sustain such a successful program, and I know that the esports program will continue to shine in Phoenix.”