He Coaches Eathletes

Esports coach Jeff Wojcik guides a spirited team of 50 students in challenging virtual sports competition that demands fast thinking

Port Washington High School math and computer science teacher Jeff Wojcik posed with some of the members of his esports teams, one of which took second in state last fall. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

As Port Washington High School’s assistant cross country coach and head (and only) esports team coach, Jeff Wojcik coaches fast running and fast thinking.

He loves running—he competed in high school in Pittsburgh—but his passion is virtual competition in sports versions of video games.

The Port High esports team he leads grew from a student-led Friday afternoon gaming club to more than 50 players competing in four different games throughout the year.

“I’m kind of a big kid at heart,” Wojcik explained, “and I’ve played video games my whole life,”

Wojcik, the son of parents who had math degrees, teaches math and computer science. He grew up playing social video games, such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater,  with fiends.

As a high school student, Wojcik began developing a skill that would come in handy in his professional life. When a fellow student didn’t get what a teacher was explaining, “I was able to really understand where that student was coming from,” he said.

“I was always helping out my classmates without realizing this could be a field for me.”

Wojcik wanted to create video games for a living, so he took computer programming classes in high school. But at Miami University of Ohio, where he was president of the inline speed skating team, he majored in physics and then switched to exercise science. He went on to earn a master’s degree in biomechanics — the physics of human motion — from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Wojcik took a few more classes to earn a math degree from Cardinal Stritcth and then earned a teaching certificate. He began his career teaching at a small school in Milwaukee for six years, where he started a gaming club that was a big hit, before coming to Port four years ago.

He was hired as a math teacher, but the principal called him before he started and asked if he could also teach computer programming, “which is funny because that’s where I started back in high school,” he said.

Besides finding his professional passion at UWM, Wojcik’s discovered the future of his family life as well. He met Port High graduate Kourtney Nault at a Guitar Hero music video game party. Now Kourtney teaches special education at Dunwiddie Elementary School and is OK with her husband devoting 10 unpaid hours a week to his esports teams, despite the couple having a 6-year-old daughter and infant twin girls.

“She understands it so she supports it,” he said. Not everyone does.

Gamers have the reputation of being recluses in their mother’s basements, but that’s because people don’t recognize the skill that goes into playing.

While watching TV is passive, Wojcik said, playing a video game is not. “Your brain is extremely active,” he said.

Quickly analyzing data, employing hand-eye coordination, learning the settings of games and problem solving combine to make up a skill itself, he said.

The type and ages of students using those skills run the gamut. “This seems to be the one thing that can take one from every clique,” Wojcik said.

“This is typically a group of students that gets overlooked in high school. That’s something I definitely felt in high school, so I wanted to give them a place.”

Participants have found more than a place. Last fall, Port was the only team in the state to have two undefeated esports teams, one in Overwatch and another in Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, with the latter team taking second place at state.

Wojcik has noticed that getting to know students through cross country, track and esports can help inside the classroom.

“These kids, when they’re in my class, I can pull them along academically as well,” he said. “Just having that relationship does wonders for teaching. It’s not just your teacher saying that; it’s someone who has the same interest as you.”

When it comes to the esports team, giving gamers a structured environment feeds into Wojcik’s belief that education and extracurricular activities should be enjoyable. His “Star Wars” shoes, Game Boy socks and wardrobe of crazy ties helps create a relaxing atmosphere.

“It’s totally worth it. I’m just building this up and supporting them so they can have fun,” he said.

It could someday be much more than that. Students can earn college scholarships for gaming, similar to athletic ones available at smaller schools such as Lakeland University and Illinois Wesleyan.  Knowing the technology related to video games provides fast growing career opportunities, Wojcik pointed out.

His computer programming classes include programming languages JavaScript, often used in web design, and Python, used by social media companies.

He just received approval to teach cybersecurity and web design next year.

“These are all incredibly essential fields. You’re going to get a job anywhere,” he said.

Wojcik gets all his curriculum for the computer programming classes from CodeHS, and the information is all web-based, allowing students to access it from anywhere. He said he continues to learn all the time.

At home, Wojcik still likes to share his interest in some of the gaming classics with the next generation. “I get to play Mario Kart with my 6-year-old,” he said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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