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  • Writer's pictureHigh School Esports League

Building a Legacy Vol. 5: Stafford High School

Author: David Stone, Commissioner of Competition

In a small district just outside of Houston lies Stafford Municipal School District, home to Stafford High School and head coach Colt Berry. Not even 2 years into running an official esports program, Stafford has shown they have what it takes to reach the pinnacle of the High School Esports League, winning Apex Legends National Championships in Fall Major and Winter Blitz seasons, as well as consistently having rosters qualified for HSEL Premier to compete against the best schools in the country in multiple game titles. Beyond the competition, Coach Berry has used his past experience in esports to help students at Stafford prepare for the IRL server, or "real life", as a non-gamer would say. Improved GPAs, college and career readiness, being a mentor to the students, and more. Stafford and Coach Berry embody the ideal of why esports in schools works, just like any other scholastic activity. It's for the students.

Now, let's hear it from the man himself: head Coach of Stafford Esports, Colt Berry!

Coach Berry & VALORANT Gold at the TX State Finals
Coach Berry & VALORANT Gold at the TX State Finals

What is your esports programs' origin story?

Our program kicked off back in August 2022. At the time, I was working as the Manager of

Operations at Contender Esports Lan Center in Miami, Oklahoma. I’d been in that role since August 2021, right after I wrapped up my bachelor’s in business administration. Before that, I was part of the varsity esports program at Rogers State University, competing in games

like CSGO and Valorant while also running the college program in my final year. When I was approached for the job, I had a sit-down with our IT Director (Jorge Rodriguez), STEM Magnet Academy Director (Lakenya Perry-Allen), and the High School Principal (Raymond Root). They had a clear vision for esports and saw me as a great fit, first as an esports coach given my background as a collegiate esports athlete and my work with organizations like NACE. Then, they threw me for a loop by suggesting I take on a role as a

STEM/high school video game design teacher, even though I didn’t have any teaching experience. It was a bit daunting at the time, I won’t lie.

The goal was to get a esports program up and running, followed by a video game design class. They figured it could help get more kids interested in coming to school, improve grades, and even chill out some of the rowdier students. There was a real hunger for something like this among the student body. Once I got onto campus with my assistant coach Evan Holland, we wasted no time. We called a big meeting for all students interested in gaming, and the turnout was amazing. Even though we’re just a 4A school with about 1,200 high schoolers, we had over 150 kids show up.

So, in September 2022, the SMSD (Stafford Municipal School District) Esports program officially kicked off. We might be a small district, but we’re thinking big, aiming to make this program available district-wide for all ages. From the get-go, we’ve had our eyes set on high schoolers, wanting to give them more career and scholarship opportunities. Right now, our high school campus has 50 student athletes and 125 club members, with another 30 students from the STEM Magnet Academy and 25 from the Middle School campus, all in grades 6 to 8.

Did you have to overcome any challenges to get your program off the ground?

[Onsite] challenges were not a major concern, as the school had already approved and expressed a desire to establish an esports program. Therefore, the backing, support from administrators, budget allocation, and acceptance of ideas were already in place when I arrived. They simply needed someone to take the lead, organize everything into a cohesive operating program, establish teams, join leagues,

and devise plans for future goals and success. These were essential steps needed to ensure that the program provided an amazing experience for the students.

The Stafford Apex Legends 1st place roster
The Stafford Apex Legends 1st place roster

What has been the highlight of your school's competitive journey in HSEL thus far?

In our first year competing in the HSEL, we’ve achieved some impressive

milestones. We secured the Fall National Championship and Winter Blitz

Tournament Championship in Apex Legends, alongside notable finishes like a Top 8 placement in Valorant and a Top 12 spot in Rocket League. One of our players even reached the Top 4 in the SSBU Gold Bracket. Our approach involves focusing on specific titles within the HSEL, providing advanced players with extra playtime and assembling our top talent to vie for national titles. For us, HSEL Nationals are the pinnacle of esports in the K-12 scene, akin to the World Cup or Super Bowl, given the level of competition and the league’s esteemed history. While we also compete in state leagues like TexSEF and Vanta Esports Texas State League, joining HSEL this year was about offering our players more opportunities for success and elevating our school’s presence in the esports community. Winning championships in HSEL is a testament to our dedication and skill, solidifying our standing as one of the best in K-12 esports.

What are you most looking forward to this spring season?

As we set our sights on clinching another championship, our ultimate aim is to secure back-to-back national title victories. While I’m not entirely certain if any teams have accomplished this feat in gaming titles before, we’re determined to make it happen! It would be fantastic to see a more diverse range of game titles featured in the [LAN] national competition held in Kansas City, rather than just a select few. While I understand the appeal of prioritizing more popular games, I believe there are other titles deserving of consideration, especially given the significant number of teams registering each year. Personally, I’m eagerly anticipating the inclusion of Apex Legends in the in-person national championship events someday.

Stafford Smash Bros. locked in at LAN
Stafford Smash Bros. locked in at LAN

Do you have any advice for fellow peers who are leading--or looking to lead--their school's esports program?

This gig can get overwhelming and exhausting sometimes. There’s a ton on your plate dealing with players, teams, leagues, and events. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to do it all alone. Coaches often put in crazy long hours, so it’s important to cut yourself some slack. You don’t need to be present at every single game or event for every esport your team is in. Trust your students and have a solid structure in place. Cultivate student leaders who can help with coaching and setting up practice routines. Encourage them to take on responsibility and leadership roles while balancing their academics and gaming interests. Just take it one step at a time, one student, one game, one adventure. You’ve got this, Coach!

As someone who’s navigated the transition from collegiate esports athlete to 6 years of industry experience, I have some valuable insights for coaches in the K-12 esports scene. First and foremost, prioritize skill development, balancing mechanical prowess with strategic understanding. Promote sportsmanship, emphasizing respect for opponents and teammates alike, alongside teaching game sense through analysis and discussion. Ensure players maintain their mental and physical health, encouraging

proper self-care and stress management. Foster effective communication and teamwork, essential for success in esports, while staying updated with the ever-evolving landscape of the industry. Offer mentorship and support beyond gaming, cultivating a positive team culture and embracing continuous improvement. Remember to keep the focus on fun, creating an environment where players can enjoy the game while honing their skills and building valuable life lessons. Additionally, emphasize the importance of managing work-life balance, encouraging players to find time for themselves outside of the game, nurturing their home life, and preserving their mental well-being.


David Stone

Commissioner of Competition

HSEL, MSEL, & Youth Winner's Circle

"In esports, I found my community AND my competitive spirit. I’m so thankful for the privilege I had in school where I was able to explore my musical passion, and I want to play a role providing that same opportunity to the students now, tomorrow, and forever. I want to give students a reason to come to school, just like I had."


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