Eric Churus, head coach of the Burnet Barbarians from Burnet Middle School in Union (whose middle school team won the GSE Rocket League state championship AND beat the high school state champs last year) shared with us his vision for “varsity letters” at the middle school level. Here’s Eric:
In the 2020-2021 school year we as a collective society faced a difficult challenge overhauling the educational process of our students. I and many others faced a second challenge, starting up esports programs at our school. I was tapped to start this program by my building principal and IT director the previous year, right before the world turned upside down. The summer of 2020 was challenging as I planned out how to create this program from the ground up and give it meaning to those involved.
When the season came around I found myself with a core group of 13 players with a wide range of talent. We quickly found ourselves finding great success and were assisted in the purchase of jerseys for the players by our Union. As I went through the design process I thought that this could be the answer to a problem I’ve been trying to solve for some time: How do I recognize the highly talented players on my team who were going to participate in a selective competition?
As a middle school, varsity letters are not something that I can present, as there is no varsity competition at this level. I decided to go with “Varsity Jerseys,” jerseys that students would be able to earn through their participation in our program. I had a blast designing our first of these unique shirts for some players on our Rocket League team.
When the year started to wind down I began the planning stages for our new season. In doing this I realized that I missed providing a meaningful award to a student who did more work behind the scenes of our program than many did in front, honestly they probably did more than me as well. This student reworked our Twitch, Discord, social media, and much more. A certificate would not suffice for this student. I then remembered my high school days on the track team and how team managers who actively participated, assisted, and stayed on for multiple years were also given letters by the coach and came to my ah-ha moment. I went and then designed a unique jersey for that student and more for other roles that we anticipated incorporating into this year’s program. The idea being that all students who make major contributions to this program through their hard work should be acknowledged for it.
The goal of this program is to try and emulate a professional team with students participating in various roles so they can gain hands on experience with jobs in the esports ecosystem. Those behind the scenes roles are highly critical to our future success and denying them a meaningful reward for their dedication would not sit well with me. This becomes a way to not only reward them for their hard work but fully establish that they are important members of the team worthy of a jersey unique to them.