BISMARCK, N.D. – North Dakota School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said a Sawyer High School teacher has been awarded a $10,000 innovation grant to establish esports and drone racing programs at his school, starting with the 2023-24 school year.
The money will be used to equip a computer lab at Sawyer, purchase drones for racing, and provide coaching in both sports. Sawyer athletic director and physical education teacher Ryan Stockie, who successfully applied for the grant, said opportunities for physical activities and healthy snacks -- such as fruit or vegetables -- will be included.
In addition to obtaining the grant, Stockie is soliciting support from local private businesses for the programs. The community of Sawyer is about 15 miles southeast of Minot in Ward County.
Esports describes competitions in popular multiplayer video games, such as Rocket League, Fortnite, and League of Legends. In drone racing, operators fly small, brightly lit, radio-controlled and camera-equipped aircraft at high speed through an obstacle course. Spectators can watch races from the perspective of the pilots, who wear head-mounted displays that show a drone’s camera feed.
Hundreds of schools across the country have drone racing leagues, which are used to interest students in STEM topics – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Esports and drone racing enthusiasts can compete in professional leagues.
Stockie said the prospect of having esports and drone racing at Sawyer has drawn much more interest than the school’s other sports extracurriculars, in which only three students participated this year in grades 7-12. There are also fewer barriers for students who want to compete in esports or drone racing at a very small school, he said. Sawyer High School has 68 students.
“By minimizing the impact of socioeconomic status, age, gender, sexuality, or physical abilities, our program will be widely available with no insurmountable barriers for any student,” Stockie said in his grant application. “Our students are interested in something other than traditional sports and activities.”
The University of North Dakota, Bismarck State College, and the University of Jamestown are among the North Dakota colleges that offer esports programs, and UND has a facility dedicated to esports.
The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction has reserved up to $10,000 every three months for teacher innovation grants, which can be awarded to one or more applicants. The grant program was established using federal COVID-19 recovery funds. The application window for the next grant round will be July 12-26, 2023, with the grant awarded on Aug. 3, 2023.