Parents, teachers and politicians may never agree how to run their schools, but there is one point usually garnering universal support.

Team sports that build cooperation and character.

It's an equation nearly as old as the institution of public education itself. But as with any athletic activity, sports weren't designed for everyone. For some, it's physical limitations. For others, it's simply a lack of interest.

The WACO school district is attempting to broaden the appeal of team play with a new sport that doesn't require physical exertion or dangerous bodily collisions. An activity often shunned by parents as an excuse to slack off.

Video games. More specifically, ESports.

The relatively new sport, pitting teams of players against each other in competitive games, has picked up a lot of steam over the past few years. There are even competitive high school teams, and sometime within the next year or so, WACO will be competing in those tournaments.

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Applying a misunderstood passion

Like a lot of young teachers, 32-year-old Drew Ayrit has been a gamer his entire life. He's in his fifth year of teaching technology at WACO, and was attracted to the school by its dedication to innovation. Unlike most schools, WACO has a four-day school week.

"I said, 'That's a school that's doing some innovative stuff, going to a four-day school week. With that, we were able to offer enrichment classes on Friday,'" he said.

Ayrit grew up in the 1990s, during the virgin days of the online gaming scene. He wanted to play the online game "Everquest" with his friends back in the late 1990s, but his computer didn't have a graphics card. So he bought one and installed it himself.

When Ayrit decided to experiment with an ESports club last year, he installed the popular online game "League of Legends" onto the school's decade-old computers. It was about the only game the aging tech could handle.

Ayrit turned the school's limitations into opportunity, and got a $25,000 grant from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation. WACO contributed an additional $12,000 to the project, and that was enough money to launch the ESports Arena and Innovation Lab. It was the students who transformed the old lab into a sheik gaming and TV production center.

Avoiding the crypto crunch

The money raised was to purchase 27 high-end computers at the exceptionally low rate of about $650 a piece — practically a fire sale compared to the spiking computer hardware market that was around the corner.

Ayrit bought the computer before last year's winter break, just ahead of the crypto currency rage that spiked prices of computer GPUs and graphics cards. The nationwide shortage of hardware has even impacted the search for intelligent life, and Ayrit said the graphics cards inside the computers he just bought are now worth as much as the computers themselves.

"We were really lucky we ordered when we did, Ayrit said.

A new kind of computer lab

Rows of monitors and computer seats line every wall, a strip of tiny blue lights along either wall supplementing the light of glowing screens.

Since there's often more interested students than there are computers, they trade back and forth, trading stories of battles won and lost before passing over the headphones. "Fortnite: Battle Royale" is the favorite game right now — a cartoony, king-of-the-hill shooting game with rules similar to paintball. You get hit hard enough, you're out. Instead of washable paint, the mark of failure is a digital demise that acts as a reset button into the next game.

Play sessions take place for an hour after school and four hours every other Friday, and there is no pressure to perform well. But the lack of expectations doesn't dull the excitement of victory.

"We just had a super-exciting moment. We just had our first "Fortnite' win," Ayrit said, seconds after a large cheer erupted from the arena.

Two large TVs stationed above the row of computers allows spectators to keep up with the action of some of the games. "Rocket League" — a version of soccer played with remote control cars —  is often up for viewing on the large screens.

"It's a really cool experience, playing with your friends all the time," said 13-year-old Isaac Oswald.

Though ESports is restricted to high school students or older, the junior high students have already started training a couple of years early. Oswald really doesn't get a chance to play video games at home, so he has a lot of ground to make up.

"I haven't played anything else other than 'Fortnite,'" he said. "I just started playing yesterday."

Pitching video games as education

While adding video games as an extra-curricular activity might be a hard sell to a lot of school boards, WACO isn't like a lot of schools. Ayrit knew there was a chance his plan would be rejected, but based on superintendent Jeff Dicks' excitement, he was pretty confident he had a winner.

"He's always telling us to incorporate our passions into our teaching," Ayrit said.

School board present Tim Graber needed some time to wrap his brain around the radical concept. He didn't need long.

"When I first heard about video games at school, I had reservations. But when you understand this market and the opportunities that exist for kids, we knew this would be an unbelievable experience for our students," Graber said.

The new computers have opened up possibilities well beyond video games. Students are encouraged to use the tech to create their own YouTube videos, their own podcasts, their own cartoons.

"The Spanish class is putting together a weather report in Spanish in front of a green screen," Ayrit said.

Getting ready for the big time

It's too late to join the current ESports season, and there's still a lot of details that have to be ironed out. But Ayrit said its safe to say WACO has the first ESports Arena in Iowa.

"We're just trying to get students in here and get them interested," Ayrit said.

Nearly a quarter of the school's 200 students have shown interest in the program, and Ayrit said he's heard nothing but warm compliments from parents. He wants to make sure parents know what their kids are playing, and joining requires a signed permission slip.

"We knew we wanted to stay away from anything that has realistic violence. "Fortnite" is cartoony. We just want to make sure parents know what students are doing. No 'Grand Theft Auto' is going on here," he said.

Teams for certain games will be formed later in the year as the students decide what interests them, and there is no pressure to compete at all. Ayrit said some kids are just in it for some casual play to relax.

It's the kind of gaming lair most kids only dream about.

"I thought it (a gaming lair) would be in my basement," 13-year-old Noah Rich said. "I never thought it would be at my school."