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TF South Esports team wins two state titles in Rocket League

LANSING, Ill. (May 20, 2024) – Esports are so new at the high-school level that TF South coach Sam Yousef sometimes has a hard time getting past some parents’ skepticism.

“It’s kind of funny,” he said. “I’m still having trouble recruiting kids. ‘My kid’s not staying after school to play video games.’ I’m trying to convince parents it’s a legitimate thing.”

That process might be easier now that the Red Wolves have won a pair of state titles in Rocket League. The team of Nick Hayes, Cory Newman, and Nick Tiscareno won the IHSA championship in the game on April 27 at Evergreen Park and then repeated the feat in the Illinois High School Esports Association competition at Northern Illinois University two weekends later.

Plugging in at TF South

The seeds for the state titles were planted when Yousef, a video-game player since his childhood, took a job at TF South. He previously worked at Crete-Monee, where he started an informal gaming club.

But in Lansing he found a receptive audience for something more ambitious, which coincided with the IHSA recognizing esports as a sanctioned activity.

Yousef credits TF South athletic director Marc Brewe and then-activities director Nicole Streit for their early support, and to the District 215 board of education for providing the resources needed to do esports right.

“It takes a lot of money to get the equipment to be able to win a state title. … Shoutout to the board, the principal (Jacob Gourley) and the A.D. (for helping to provide) the gaming setups, the monitors, a room to practice in every day,” he said.

TF South practices two days a week and the gamers’ time is not just spent zoning out in front of a monitor in a dark room.

“The knowledge you need to have to play the games at that level — we watch film — it’s not as simple as just playing video games,” Yousef said.

More than a dozen Red Wolves play a variety of games, but Rocket League was the team’s forte.

“We faced off against a lot of teams in our conference and we were far and away the best team,” Yousef said.

Journey to the state titles

But South’s nemesis was Lincoln-Way East, which beat the Red Wolves during the regular season and again at the IHSA sectional. The Griffins finished first and the Red Wolves second in that competition.

Then at IHSA state, TF South beat Effingham St. Anthony and Yorkville before getting knocked into the losers’ bracket by Normal West. The Red Wolves eliminated Lincoln-Way East, Wheaton North, and Elgin to earn another shot at Normal West.

This time, the Red Wolves won 3-2 and then 3-0 to capture the state title.

Hayes, Newman, and Tiscareno are all set to return next season, so the future is bright for the Red Wolves.

“We’re hoping to go run it back next year,” Yousef said.

And even better, esports also are taking off at the college level as schools are beginning to offer scholarship money for gamers.

“NIU, St Xavier, and DePaul all have shown interest in the kids,” Yousef said.

That’s just more evidence Yousef can show doubting parents about the power — and legitimacy — of video games.


Mike Clark
Mike Clark
Mike Clark is a veteran journalist who has been covering sports in the Chicago area and beyond, from preps to pros, for more than four decades.