Scholastic Esports Leveling Up to Mainstream in Pennsylvania

Scholastic Esports Leveling Up to Mainstream in Pennsylvania

Learn how Pennsylvania’s scholastic esports are leveling up, giving students exciting opportunities for college scholarships and careers in gaming.


The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Esports Association (PIEA), which began five years ago, now boasts over 150 middle schools and high schools as members. 

This organization fosters competitive gaming and offers students opportunities for esports-related scholarships.

Beaudette: A Champion in the Making

Beaudette, a 17-year-old junior, is a prime example of the growing impact of esports. 

As a team captain at Carlisle Area High School, he has won a state championship in Super Smash Bros., a popular game based on the Mario franchise. 

His commitment to the sport is evident as he practices in Room L127 with the Thundering Herd esports team.

“This is the perfect time for me to enjoy video games as a high schooler,” Beaudette said.

The Rise of Esports in Pennsylvania

Esports, or competitive video gaming, has transitioned from niche to mainstream high school sports

The PIEA, now in its fifth year, includes middle and high schools across Pennsylvania, including Carlisle and Cumberland Valley in Cumberland County. 

The association sanctions four video games:

  • Overwatch and Valorant (first-person shooters)
  • Rocket League (vehicle soccer)
  • Super Smash Bros. (fighting game)

Each school year features two seasons: fall and spring.

Carlisle’s Esports Program

Carlisle High School participates in all four sanctioned games. 

DJ Rodkey, a computer systems networking teacher, oversees the program, while Christian Mercado, a substitute teacher, coaches the Super Smash Bros. players.

“I think it is still such a new venture for most schools in this area that just the fact that we can do this is kind of big,” Mercado said.

Benefits Beyond Gaming

Esports offers students opportunities to develop leadership and organizational skills. 

As captain, Beaudette manages match schedules and coordinates with opposing team captains. “It has improved my time management and awareness about communicating with people,” he said.

In its second year with the PIEA, Carlisle won a junior varsity Super Smash Bros. 

Championship and has since moved to a more competitive division. 

Most matches are played from home, but the team practices in the school’s computer lab. 

The PIEA finals are held in person, creating memorable experiences for players like Beaudette, who fondly recalls competing on stage in Pittsburgh.

Opportunities in Collegiate Esports

High school esports pave the way for college opportunities. 

The National Association of Collegiate Esports is the largest collegiate esports conference, with over 200 member schools, including local institutions like Harrisburg UniversityMessiah University, and Central Penn College

These programs offer scholarships and other resources to support student-athletes.

Esports Programs and Opportunities

CollegeEsports Program Start YearNotable Features
Harrisburg University2017State-of-the-art facilities, top-10 ranking
Messiah University2019Focus on academics and esports
Central Penn CollegeN/AScholarships available

Esports as a Career Path

Joshua Grimm, Messiah University’s first full-time esports coordinator, emphasizes that esports can teach valuable skills such as communication and teamwork. 

Esports also has a global reach, with international competitions drawing millions of viewers.

“Back when I was younger, it was not even fathomable to imagine yourself in a career that had to do with video games other than maybe making video games,” Grimm said.

Building Carlisle’s Program

Beaudette is still focused on esports scholarships but is considering colleges offering video game development programs. 

The PIEA’s online platform, Discord, allows colleges to post about their programs and recruiting events. 

Mercado hopes the team will grow as more students become aware of the opportunities esports offers.

“It is still very much so in the building stages of trying to create something here,” Mercado said, “and making it known to students that that thing you do after school to unwind, you can do that at a competitive level.”


Esports in high schools, like Carlisle’s program, are breaking the stigma around video games. 

These programs provide students with new avenues for college scholarships and career opportunities, proving that “those dumb games” can pay for school.

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