NAECAD Interview: Mike Dahle, Wisconsin High School Esports Association

March 25, 2022

Since its founding, the Wisconsin High School Esports Association has been striving to cultivate a brimming extracurricular esports scene within the Badger State. While many contributed to WIHSEA's ongoing expansion, none have incurred the same effect as Mike Dahle has done.

A longtime business education teacher, Dahle became the President of WIHSEA in 2017 and oversaw its expansion, starting from having nine member schools to having over 100.

The National Association of Esports Colleges and Directors spoke to Dahle about the WIHSEA, its current state and subsequent growth.

What is the current state of the Wisconsin High School Esports Association? 

Mike Dahle: For the current state of Wisconsin, we are in our fifth year, almost six. We've expanded to 106 schools servicing nearly 1700 students for this year and that doesn't include the two pilot seasons that we ran as well, so I'm guessing we are probably actually closer to the 2000 students served mark. This is our second full year as a nonprofit as we're continuing to expand across the state. There's a lot of things happening here in the state of Wisconsin. We just held the Milwaukee Esports Alliance Summit where we had I think about 150 to 175 people in attendance. We had 70 different organizations present from K-12 to college to professional organizations to just community advocates; even down to people who are designing adaptive controllers in the community. All of them are coming together and starting to unify.

Since Fall 2017 the association has seen steady growth in school participation. In your opinion what has led to the growth and excitement from the schools? 

Mike Dahle: I think the biggest reason for our exponential growth is because we have so many advocates within our state. At this point, I'm kind of stepping back from presenting at all the conferences and letting these people that have been developing their own programs for the last three to four years to go ahead and step up and showcase what they're doing. So we have a lot of good coverage across the state. We have a lot of the major conferences covered, just educating everywhere from your superintendents all the way down to your classroom teachers. We've even done presentations at the Wisconsin Parks and Recreation Annual Conference, so it's not just hitting educational conferences, but just other avenues that esports could touch in the state.

How is the association helping parents navigate esports and the potential impact for their students? 

Mike Dahle: This is definitely a category that I would like to do more in. I think we need to do a better job educating our parents as just to what their students are doing, why they should be celebrated. And then I can support that. One of the last initiatives that I had at the Fall State Championship was to try to put together panels that are filled with teachers,community leaders, or colleges and then directing some of those panels at the parents that were there so that they can get something out of the day to just to understand how big this is and what doors are being opened for their students.

The Wisconsin High School Esports Association is a member of the Interstate Scholastic Esports Association. Why was it important to be a part of this new association?

Mike Dahle: First, we do need to have a formal vote as a nonprofit in order to join the ISEA. I felt it was extremely important to be part of that process because it's bringing together 14 state organizations that will be servicing over 40,000 students. One of the biggest barriers that we've really had over the last three years is that we don't get to have a voice. Now even though we're growing exponentially and the number of students that we serve is frankly one of the largest in the country, when we were divided we couldn't get a voice at the table; and now that we're unifying not only nonprofits but for profits as well, starting to go ahead and build these silos within the community and developing best practices, I think number one our voice will be heard and  number two we have the ability to unify together as far as what we need for K-12, what collegiate potentially needs, and what the coaches' needs are. It's just a great way to to organize everybody under the same house instead of being divided.

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