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Thursday, March 5, 2020

Highlands Adding Esports and Wrestling Programs to Athletic Department

Both Sports Open to Both Genders

PHOTO: Tabitha Brennenstuhl, Burning Chair Photography. Highlands High School will be adding wrestling for the 2020-2021 school year. The school added Esports starting this spring.
Students at Highlands High School will soon have two new sport options.

Wrestling and Esports, which stands for Electronic Sports.

Esports, which is competitive computer games, already has a head coach in Shih Yang Wen and has had some practice matches against other schools. The practices and home meets are taking place in Ron Rosel's Computer-Aided Design lab at Highlands Middle School. There must be 50 schools participating for the Kentucky High School Athletic Association to sanction the sport.

The games take place in the fall and spring, but Highlands put the team together for the spring. Teams use five computers with four for the players and one for the coach. The labs include headsets and gaming chairs and can have both varsity and junior varsity teams. Highlands Director of Athletics Kevin Nieporte said Network Administrator Matthew Winkler and Director of Technology Diana McGhee set up the computers to handle all the data required.

Highlands opened the sport to both boys and girls. Sixteen boys ended up signing up.

"Basically, we're excited because it hits a part of our student population that otherwise would not be representing our school in any way," Nieporte said. "Of course, research shows the more a student is involved and invested in their school, the better they do so we decided to add the sport."

The KHSAA sanctions three games in League of Legends, Smite and Rocket League. Rocket League consists of players playing as a car and basically playing soccer and going through obstacles. League of Legends is a battleground type of game similar to Civil War simulations and Smite is made of characters from ancient mythology in a combat setting.

Highlands saw 12 players sign up for League of Legends, four for Rocket League and none for Smite. The team had varsity and junior varsity tryouts for League of Legends similar to other sports.

"It's been obviously said that a lot of money can be made. Colleges are already now awarding scholarships for Esports," Nieporte said. "There's a big tournament in Nevada where they're playing competitively. I wouldn't be too surprised if a professional league is on the horizon if it hasn't already been created."

Wrestling will start during the 2020-2021 school year. It is also a co-ed sport and is played in the winter.

Nieporte said the school is putting together a hiring committee for the head coach. He said 12 wrestlers are needed for a team. The school approved a junior varsity setting for the first year. But Nieporte spoke to a former coach in the area and was told teams generally wrestle in the smaller meets.

Former Highlands football player Rob Pinkston has coached the Highlands Wrestling Club, which consists of wrestlers between Kindergarten and the Eighth Grade, for the three years it has been around. Pinkston noted the club has 42 wrestlers this past season without advertising the club within the school system because it was not connected with the school.

"I'm just grateful that the high school program finally came to fruition," Pinkston said. "It was a process that started really four, five years ago when when there was different administration there at Highlands asking (former Highlands principal) Brian Robinson and (former Highlands Director of Athletics) Matt Haskamp what we needed to do to look at that being a possibility at the high school level. They said to start a club program. start a youth program and see if there is interest there and it's done nothing but blossom since its inception."

The HWC had more than 20 wrestlers participate in the Kentucky youth state wrestling championships in Pikeville recently. Tacey "Tank" Hinson won his class with TJ Hicks and Rafe Pinkston finishing third. Jack Heilman placed fourth in his class and Charlie Schnidt took sixth.

Three rookies also did well at the state tournament. Braxton Hamm and Tenzing Lindeman took fourth with Ryder Brennedtuhl taking sixth in their respective classes.

Coach Pinkston said football players can wrestle as another option in the winter as another way of keeping in shape. Football players can currently play basketball, swimming and diving, archery and bowling in the winter.

"In my youth, I loved football," Pinkston said. "I went into track as a spring conditioning type of sport and I ended up absolutely loving track. It became my number one sport after a few years. That often happens when kids are looking at a sport as a conditioning sport."

The state meet recently took place and had 14 weight classes. The lowest class was 106 pounds and the highest class was 285 pounds. Union County won its fifth straight state championship and 11th overall and Ryle finished fourth. Woodford County owns the most wrestling state championships with 12.

Teams from the northern three counties of Kentucky have combined for seven state championships. Campbell County has the most with four with the most recent one coming in 2012.

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