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Midvale Journal

Esports approved for Utah high schools starting in 2026

May 06, 2024 09:57AM ● By Tom Haraldsen

Starting during the school year 2025-26, Esports will be an officially sanctioned activity for Utah high school students. (Stock photo)

By unanimous vote last week, leaders of the Utah High School Activities Association have agreed to sanction competitive video gaming, known as Esports. High schoolers across Utah will be able to compete in organized Esports competitions beginning in January 2026. 

The first season will run January through April. No specific games were announced by the UHSAA.

Last year, the association began collecting information for a needs assessment, developing what it called “Emerging Sports Criteria.” It revealed that about 10% of member schools (15) have female participation in a sport non-sanctioned by the UHSAA, while 20% of the schools (31) have coed or male participation in a non-sanctioned sport. Those numbers didn’t include Esports. A threshold for sanctioning new sports was set at a minimum of 31 schools for female and 46 for coed or male participation sports. After studying existing participation, both girls’ and boys’ Esports exceeded those requirements. Girls’ and boys’ mountain biking met sanctioning consideration, but no action was taken on those sports. Girls’ rodeo and girls’ pickleball were also considered, but didn’t meet the threshold for consideration.

USHAA executive director Rob Cuff called the approval “groundbreaking.” He said discussions were held with stakeholders that included educators, parents and others in the communities.

"We are thrilled to announce the sanctioning of Esports as an official activity within the UHSAA," Cuff said in a statement. "Esports provides a unique avenue for student engagement and competition, and we believe it has the potential to enrich the high school experience for a wide range of students."

He added that the new activities will lend themselves to building teamwork, strategic thinking and leadership. 

There have been competitions in Esports among several Utah high schools for years. An organization called Ken Garff Esports has organized those competitions, with the most popular games being Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, Rocket League and Mario Kart. Esports have emerged as a billion dollar industry worldwide, with top athletes becoming millionaires from prize-sanctioned tournaments, and several colleges offering Esport scholarships, including Weber State University. At Weber State, the school created a lab to study the effects that competitive gaming has on the human body.

In March of last year, about 2,000 students took part in a Ken Graff Esport celebration at the University of Utah, where participants were offered workshops and competitions that also included coding, digital media and photography, virtual reality, math, engineering and cybersecurity. The Princeton Review ranked the U of U first in the nation for its undergraduate games program and second in the nation for its graduate games program. 

In two years, high school students will have the opportunity to improve their gaming skills and qualify for scholarships the same way as other athletes. λ