H.S. Esports Coach April Coats Talks Forming Bonds With Students
Arkansas' Northside High School League of Legends team is challenging for state titles and it's easy to see why.
It wasn’t a miracle, and it wasn’t out of thin air that April Coats’ Northside High School esports team made it to the Arkansas League of Legends state championship. If you ask her, it was to be expected.
After all, her original team put all their energy into a pitch to the school administration to sanction their esports program. Since PlayVS high school esports is in partnership with NFHS, the small Arkansas district was open to the idea.
“My students were smart enough to recognize that support from a state organization would make their push to the admin much easier,” Ms. Coats said of the team’s beginnings. “They researched and created a presentation on the benefits to esports, and had to present it to the administration! Their passion was easy to see and the admin has been supportive since then.”
The team started with just five students in her class who were passionate about League of Legends competition – and as their coach, Coats wasn’t sure she’d be able to pick up on the game’s nuances. After all, video games were just a fun way to pass time when she was a kid.
“Since the push for esports started in my classroom it was natural for me to take on the role of the coach, even though I knew nothing about the games,” she said. “But I quickly learned it is like anything else. . . If you appreciate the passion your students have for it, and show a willingness to learn, then you can do this.”
Coats was pleasantly surprised that her journey as a coach produced a two-way street of respect and learning, and with some help from the PlayVS and League of Legends communities her skills as an educator turned her into the admiration of the school. She also felt a sense of duty to get the team to their state championship after one of the members tragically passed away in a car accident.
“Watching this group rally around each other and help each other through that trauma will forever stick with me – that was when I knew we had created something really special with this group,” she said.
But, it’s not just by sheer will that the team has made it this far. For every title they compete in, the Northside High School esports players are incredibly disciplined. And, they support the learning objectives Coats has laid out for them. Her style blends a personal approach with team-based strategy, and much like with traditional sports she works to instill critical thinking skills, a sense of selflessness and rudimentary discipline in her players.
“The majority of our players work to help support their families, on top of being AP students, so our practice may look different week to week,” she said. “But we still make time to run scrimmages followed by VOD sessions.”
Since covid-19 put a damper on their ability to play as frequently as their first year together, the Northside esports players maintain frequent communication through group chats and digital learning sessions. And, although they fell short previously, they are hungry to prove before heading off to college that the Arkansas high school esports championship is still within reach.
“Do we want a state championship? Of course,” said Coats. “But more importantly, if our team has shown growth as people, then we will call our program a success.”
Having the right culture in place with a support system has meant the program will remain a permanent fixture at the school. And with some of her best students now turning into upperclassmen, she believes they can pass the torch down to the younger generations of esports players.
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