A tale of two games

Jack Hammill - Guest Columnist

It hit me on Saturday afternoon when people were checking out after open bowling at 20th Century as they were at Westgate Lanes, Southgate Lanes and other bowling establishments in our area on that day and other days. Each person was paying for the cost of — drum roll please — a game.

Over the last several decades bowling has evolved.

There was once an era when the participants were beer and a shot, chain smoking and in some cases pot-bellied individuals who had nothing better to do on a Saturday night. Nothing could be further from the truth these days as Saturday featured a whole lot of young Burkholder relatives and friends and their parents and was capped off with an elite dancing machine name Riley Smith and her core of friends.

The game has changed – more on that later.

The day prior I had the chance to speak with Phil Talavinia, the interim vice president of student life and athletic director of Bluffton University. One week earlier Tom Simmons of Ohio Northern University and his head Esports coach Troy Chiefari were my hosts as the exploration of this sport continued.

Simmons and Talavinia are coming at this new ‘sporting venture’ from essentially the same lens. In each case they referenced the color of their hair (gray) and the amount of time that they have spent in the world of sport (let’s just say more than a decade or so).

The phrasing was different but the theme was the same.

Simmons first – “We must be flexible to change with the times or we will be left behind.”

Talavinia may even be seen as a little more direct – “Everything evolves – we must be willing to adapt to that change – we have and we will continue to do so.”

The two schools share one other trait that cannot be dismissed – they are strong academic institutions founded as church related programs. Coincidentally two other schools on my radar Mt Vernon University and Mount St. Joseph Unviersity in Cincinnati fit that description as well.

Depending how you look at things, ONU may be ahead of the pace locally as they have a full-time coach in Chiefari who has been a professional gamer and the resources to utilize space at the university to accommodate the students that want to participate. Chiefari has also been active in our community and other areas of the state serving as a consultant to different programs.

In the words of Simmons – “He has been crushing it.”

There is not any doubt that if ONU were to compete tomorrow that the Polar Bear ‘Gamers’ would be crushing it as well. If you are curious as to the value of Esports for your school, Troy would be a great person for a consultation.

Talavinia would also be an incredible source.

Where ONU has the coach in place – Bluffton University has at the least a faculty representative looking over the program – by name Zachary Walton.

And they have Talavinia himself an individual who is very pro-student and as we have shared very cognizant of the need to continue to evolve.

They also have a room/facility on campus up and running. Did I say room? Talavinia and I spent time in the Esports Center in Neufeld Hall, a student residence building at the university.

Gamer was a key word in our conversation as well.

He shared, “I remember seeing one of our young lady soccer players here one afternoon and commenting that I did not know that she was a ‘gamer.’

Being experienced veterans of sports, this led to a brief conversation of other gamers in sport and how the term has evolved.

“It’s pretty much a student led group. As a university one of our core values is community. it is important for us and for others to realize that this is the affinity group of some of our students. This is their social network – they are comfortable to meet here and to interact.”

How could they not be comfortable in the Beaver Esports Center. The graphics were fantastic and the purple school colors enhanced the room . I was tempted to ask if I could hide out there weekly and write my column.

Affinity group – social network – assisting the student to find a way to comfortably interact are keys that the students are looking for as they select where they will continue their formal education.

The parallel to bowling is still vivid to me as each have had to face the challenge of overcoming stereotypes.

For many folks ‘gamers’ will always be seen as the ‘stoners’ and dropouts who hang out in the basement of their parents and do little for society and often enough commit crimes against society. Again this is in the eyes of some.

There are also critics in the land I was in a little over a month ago. “These kids need to spend more time outside doing things and less times playing video games. Frank Kill, Jeff Heistan, Simmons and Talavinia each lived within that land for quite a while but each have at least moved from square one to evolve –to not be left behind. I for one am rapidly chasing after them – come join me.

We have one more stop on my tour that being the offices of The Ohio High School Athletic Association – what do they think of what is going on and what is next for them – Is Esports in their future?


Jack Hammill

Guest Columnist

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