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Students at Syosset Level Up Through Esports

Esports has allowed students at Syosset Senior High School to push themselves to new heights.

Ed Dutcher
Apr 21, 2022

Marc Occhiuto, the head esports coach at New York’s Syosset Senior High School, clearly remembers when he first founded his program.

“Four years ago, I remember reading an article about PlayVS and the emergence of esports on the high school level. The second I read that article, I said to myself, ‘I need to make this happen at my school.’” 

Occhiuto approached Syosset’s athletic director, and over the next few weeks, met with various faculty and students who shared their interest. The result was the Syosset Esports Group. Attendance at the inaugural meeting reflected a level of enthusiasm in gaming that matched Occhiuto’s. 

“Soon after we held our first meeting to see how many students would be interested in joining, and we had over seventy-five students show up. I was blown away, and to this day we maintain a membership of close to one hundred students.”

“Esports gave him his outlet to be who he truly was.”

Even though he was riding a wave of hype backed by a rush of applicants, Occhiuto was not without some doubts. The would-be esports coach had grown up with video games and had coached swimming as long as he had been teaching, but teaching backstroke and League of Legends jungling strats are two very different animals.

“How does one coach someone playing a video game? How do I manage multiple teams across multiple titles? I was unsure of how it would work, and if it would succeed. I was not sure how the students would be.”

As it turned out, Occhiuto’s students were more than ready to rise to the occasion.

“I do not have the expertise in every game these students play, and luckily for me, these kids are so passionate they coach themselves. Each team has a captain that sets up practice schedules and breaks down matches. They care so much; it has blown me away at how little they need managing.”

While it’s common for coaches to take a backseat approach in esports, the efficacy of such an approach is dependent on the investment by the players to put in the work. At Syosset, that enthusiasm has been there since the beginning. Occhiuto recalls one of his first players:

“I remember at our first meeting I saw one of my former students. He was a quiet and shy kid, who barely spoke, so I was really excited to see him express interest in the club.” 

That player quickly went on to become Syosset’s Overwatch team captain, and Occhiuto observed a dramatic transformation in his pupil’s demeanor once he was leading his team.

“We went to a local tournament against other schools on Long Island, and what I saw that evening was night and day from how he was in my class. He was vocal, confident, and directed the team to victory. Esports gave him his outlet to be who he truly was.”

“It was great to show the students that there is a legitimate future in what they are doing.”

There are countless stories of how esports have helped students realize untapped potential or discover previously unknown talents. Austin Golove, one of the initial students Occhiuto approached four years ago, is another example. Though Golove has since graduated from Syosset and is studying esports management in college, Occhiuto recently invited him to speak to his current students. 

“It was great to show the students that there is a legitimate future in what they are doing, and that is not just being a player, but managing, shoutcasting, and more. The work he put into our program is contributing to his future goals and career.” 

Stories like this help Occhiutio and Syosset esports demonstrate the value of their program for both the school and its students.

“For the community, it is another example of what makes Syosset School District so special. They are willing to support programs like these and provide as many different unique and exciting opportunities to their students as they can.”

As long as Syosset continues to support its students, the students are happy to keep on bringing home victories. Even after they win, Occhiuto observes with pride, his players keep pushing themselves to improve.

“I think it is a testament to their dedication, hard work, and drive to be better. I hope they continue that trend this year, though I am running out of space on my desk for their trophies.”

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