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Lenape Regional High School District (LRHSD) will introduce two new varsity sports: boys volleyball and coed esports, beginning in the 2022-2023 school year.
LRHSD will use pandemic-related federal grants to initiate these new opportunities, extending the benefits of team sports to a broader student population.
“Our goal is to involve more students in activities that help them feel connected to our schools and to their peers. This is especially important as many continue to readjust to in-person schooling,” said LRHSD Superintendent Carol Birnbohm, Ed.D.
Among the intended uses of the federal relief funding are helping students reacclimate to school and enhancing mental health support. “Our district created many new programs to increase access to counseling services both in and out of school, but we also know that simply belonging to a group or a team is critically important for mental health,” Birnbohm added.
LRHSD is predominately using federal relief funding for academic recovery to address learning loss through evidence-based interventions such as summer learning, summer enrichment, in-person tutoring, virtual tutoring, and credit recovery opportunities.
“We know participation in sports also correlates with stronger academic performance, which is yet another benefit of introducing two new sports,” said Birnbohm. “And students who look forward to an after-school activity tend to have better attendance and take more of an interest in all aspects of school.”
An added benefit of introducing esports to LRHSDis that even non-athletes can make use of the equipment.
“Our purchase will have multipurpose. We are in the early stages of developing a video game programming course, which will provide students with a pathway to explore a career in the high-growth gaming industry,” said Director of Curriculum Heather Xenakis.
LRHSD already offers girls volleyball. The addition of boys volleyball provides an option for male students to participate in a spring sport that does not require them to purchase expensive personal equipment unlike other spring sport options such as golf, baseball, or lacrosse.
“We are aiming for inclusivity with both of these new offerings, but especially with esports, which in other schools has attracted both students who participate in traditional sports and an entirely new group of students who have not previously taken part in a sport or any extracurricular activity,” Xenakis said.
According to Garden State Esports, more than 160 school districts operate esports teams, with about 5,000 New Jersey students participating in the organization’s statewide league.
Esports athletes earn varsity letters, and just like with other sports, standouts can continue after high school to join a collegiate team and even earn scholarships for their play. Xenakis added that a misconception about video games is youth always play alone; esports brings students together for team-based play.
“It requires communication, accountability, and relationship-building,” she said.“We look forward to our esports participants building and maintaining relationships with their teammates and feeling a sense of pride in what they are accomplishing together, as well as in the school they are representing competition,” Birnbohm added.
The Lenape Regional High School District’s four high schools –Lenape, Shawnee, Cherokee, and Seneca – as well as the Sequoia Alternative Program, educate approximately 6,850 students from eight communities in Burlington County.
The communities served include Evesham, Medford, Medford Lakes, Mount Laurel, Shamong, Southampton, Tabernacle, and Woodland.
The Lenape Regional District is among the highest-achieving districts in the state, with an average graduation rate of 97.4% and an average combined SAT score of 1139.
A leader in progressive education, the LRHSD’s mission is to develop physically and emotionally healthy students who excel in an ever-changing world.