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A few years ago, I laughed when my alma mater, Coker College, sent out a press release through Cobra Athletics that introduced their newest team “sport,” Esports, to its offerings for prospective “student-athletes.”

I reached out to all of my teammates and many friends from my era to have a good laugh with them and ponder what could have happened that we had to turn to playing video games to attract more athletes to the school. We laughed and we laughed.

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Then I found out the joke was on me.

That year, the statistics I read showed that in Game 7 of the World Series, (I believe it was the same year the Cubs won the World Series, the first time since like the Middle Ages) 21 million people watched Game 7. Alternatively, over on ESPN they were showing the League of Legends Championship to an estimated viewership of 27 million!

When I went to Homecoming back in October and made my obligatory trip to the campus bookstore, I sought out and bought my Coker Esports cap in support of our newest collegiate “sport.”

My wife teases me every time I wear the hat based on my initial reaction, but I rock that thing in proud support of my small, cozy, friendly, Division II school’s Esports team.

And why not? Our team takes their 15 “student-athletes” and competes in three different games against some small and some very large schools. This year alone, Coker had competed and defeated schools like University of Texas at Dallas, Northern Arizona University, and Florida State University, as well as taking it on the chin from Western Kentucky University and fellow South Carolina powerhouse Clemson.

Earlier this year, I heard from a former soccer player of mine who was also the captain of our high school golf team when we won the counties last year, who while at college to play golf has decided to join his school’s Esports team under the gamer tag, Natertot.

Now, is it helping his backswing or his putting stroke? Maybe, maybe not.

But he seems to be having a blast with it. And, if I want to watch him play, I just log on to my Twitch account (like I have one) and can see him compete with other school programs.

Last weekend we ran in to a friend’s son we hadn’t seen in a while and while we were catching up on his whereabouts and current activities, he told us although he was a three-sport athlete at Winters Mill and capable of playing baseball at the collegiate level, his Carroll County roots kicked in and when he got to campus, he joined the — get this — school’s fishing team.

He said his father wasn’t all too pleased, but just like Esports, competitive bass fishing teams are sprouting up all over the place and sponsorship money is coming in to schools as the sport takes hold.

It’s a crazy world of sports we’re living in these days. Esports? Bass fishing? What’s next, fencing? Well, yes.

Last year, 44 NCAA universities sponsored fencing teams with a Division I average scholarship amount of roughly $15,000 for men and $18,000 for women (between $5-6K for D-II).

How about bowling? There were 171 university sponsored bowling teams, and although no scholarships are awarded for men’s bowling, the average woman bowler raked in more than $16,000 in scholarships where D-II men and women were again around $7,000 in scholarships awarded.

Horse person? Seventt-seven schools sponsored equestrian programs with average scholarships for women in the $17,000 range. And of course, my personal favorite, beach volleyball, where 126 schools offered an average $18,000 scholarship.

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Those are the official NCAA sanctioned sports. In addition, there are many other sports like bass fishing that are not yet sanctioned yet still field teams at many schools. We have many students across our county who are active in the power lifting world, some even competing for national titles.

Good news. Five colleges now have programs for powerlifting. More of a racquet sport type person? Thirty-six schools sponsored squash teams last year. Biker? Cycling teams are now offered by 17 schools. And, 73 schools even offered men’s and women’s rodeo teams to prospective student-athletes.

Our society is so focused on the big money allure of professional sports in the “Big Three” (football, basketball, baseball) and other well-paying sports like golf, tennis, hockey, and soccer, that we sometimes lose track of what else in going on that we could offer to our young athletes.

I know that I have been awakened to the possibility of other avenues to school through sports, but may be a little late for my boys. Just like having to change the way we educate our children as technology and social media makes a more significant impact in and out of the classroom, we need to look differently at the way we view youth sports.

President John F. Kennedy once said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

Looks like I missed it already.

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