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Trinity among first area districts to field esports team
  • Updated

Yes, it’s pretty satisfying to knock a soccer ball into the opposing team’s goal with your car in Rocket League, a popular video game.

But today’s video games have embarked on a new and ambitious quest, and esports (electronic sports) – one of the fastest-growing high school and college sports – is burning its way into screens across Pennsylvania.

And Trinity Area High School, one of the first schools in the region to incorporate esports into its curriculum, is among the leaders of that trend.

Trinity also fields an esports team that competes in PlayVS, a scholastic esports league.

“Trinity Area is thrilled to be one of the first school districts in the region to build an esports program,” said Superintendent Dr. Michael Lucas. “I am incredibly grateful for our staff members’ assistance in helping us to prepare to launch the program this school year. Our esports coaches, teachers, and administrators work diligently to design and facilitate courses with real-world applications – the kind of courses students want to take.”

During each semester of the 2021-22 school year, Trinity Area is piloting Introduction to Esports courses to familiarize students with industry game developers’ roles, responsibilities and influences.

More than 90% of teens are active video gamers, and the popularity of video games has launched an entire industry of gamers, spectators and competition. In 2019, an estimated 453.8 million viewers watched esports matches around the country, hauling in a record $1.1 billion in revenue from sponsorships and advertising.

Trinity and other high schools see the opportunity that esports offer for students interested in attending college. The National Association of Collegiate Esports reports more than 170 colleges and universities around the country now have varsity programs, and they’re pursuing the best high school gamers with more than $16 million in scholarships each year.

While some students will wind up as professional esports players, the games are also introducing students to a variety of professional opportunities they can explore once in college, including esports marketing careers, business management, game development, team coaching and more.

Trinity High School has installed a state-of-the-art, futuristic classroom equipped with the latest computers, gaming software, lighting, cameras, video game cards, and broadcasting software to provide students with an authentic, hands-on learning and playing experience.

About 30 student-athletes participate on Trinity’s esports team, where the compete against other teams in Pennsylvania and other states in Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, League of Legends, and Rocket League.

And that offers several benefits for students involved in esports – which is open to both boys and girls – for students to find their “thing.”

Trinity High School senior Sean Fagan-Dyer leaped at the chance to join the Hillers e-gamers team.

“I joined because I like video games. It looked fun for me,” said Fagan-Dyer. “I’ve been interested in competing in something like this, so I joined. I also made a couple of new friends, and honestly, I’m hoping to get better at the games and hopefully bring home a couple of wins for Trinity.”

Daniel Scarmazzi, coach of the Hillers esports team, said the digital transformation of sports provides a chance for students who might not get involved in other sports teams to compete on a team.

And esports, like other sports and extracurricular activities, offer other benefits to Trinity students.

Students who participate in extracurriculars often experience higher attendance, improved math and reading scores, increased focus and higher self-esteem.

“It’s great to finally harness video games for a positive use, instead of making it something that we always assume is negative,” said Scarmazzi. “I really like the positive aspects of it, the careers that are available, that sort of thing. It’s really giving kids a place and an opportunity to be involved and succeed. That’s my favorite part.”

But, Scarmazzi notes, don’t overlook the fact that esports are competitive and intense.

“Competitively, you’re looking to constantly improve the way you would when you’re playing a sport,” said Scarmazzi. “I would compare it to a sport. If you shoot a basketball leisurely, you’re not really getting better at it, but you’re enjoying it, right? But when you’re playing for a team, you’re working on drills and you’re working to achieve something together. That’s kind of the way esports works, in the sense of video games.”

Sophomore Luke Webb shared Scarmazzi’s sentiments.

“It’s really nice to have a bunch of other like-minded people who play the same video games to spend time with. It’s a nice community,” he said.

Social Security checks getting big boost as inflation rises

WASHINGTON – Millions of retirees on Social Security will get a 5.9% boost in benefits for 2022. The biggest cost-of-living adjustment in 39 years follows a burst in inflation as the economy struggles to shake off the drag of the coronavirus pandemic.

The COLA, as it’s commonly called, amounts to an added $92 a month for the average retired worker, according to estimates Wednesday from the Social Security Administration. It’s an abrupt break from a long lull in inflation that saw cost-of-living adjustments averaging just 1.65% a year over the past 10 years.

With the increase, the estimated average Social Security payment for a retired worker will be $1,657 a month next year. A typical couple’s benefits would rise by $154 to $2,753 per month.

But that’s just to help make up for rising costs that recipients are already paying for food, gasoline and other goods and services.

“It goes pretty quickly,” retiree Cliff Rumsey said of the cost-of-living increases. After a career in sales for a leading steel manufacturer, Rumsey lives near Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. He cares at home for his wife of nearly 60 years, Judy, who has advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Since the coronavirus pandemic, Rumsey said he has also noted price increases for wages paid to caregivers who occasionally spell him and for personal care products for Judy.

The COLA affects household budgets for about 1 in 5 Americans. That includes Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees, nearly 70 million people in all. For baby boomers who embarked on retirement within the past 15 years, it will be the biggest increase they’ve seen.

Among them is Kitty Ruderman of Queens in New York City, who retired from a career as an executive assistant and has been collecting Social Security for about 10 years. “We wait to hear every year what the increase is going to be, and every year it’s been so insignificant,” she said. “This year, thank goodness, it will make a difference.”

Ruderman says she times her grocery shopping to take advantage of midweek senior citizen discounts, but even so price hikes have been “extreme.” She says she doesn’t think she can afford a medication that her doctor has recommended.

AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins called the government payout increase “crucial for Social Security beneficiaries and their families as they try to keep up with rising costs.”

Policymakers say the adjustment is a safeguard to protect Social Security benefits against the loss of purchasing power, and not a pay bump for retirees. About half of seniors live in households where Social Security provides at least 50% of their income, and one-quarter rely on their monthly payment for all or nearly all their income.

“You never want to minimize the importance of the COLA,” said retirement policy expert Charles Blahous, a former public trustee helping to oversee Social Security and Medicare finances. “What people are able to purchase is very profoundly affected by the number that comes out. We are talking the necessities of living in many cases.”

This year’s Social Security trustees report amplified warnings about the long-range financial stability of the program. But there’s little talk about fixes in Congress, with lawmakers’ consumed by President Joe Biden’s massive domestic legislation and partisan machinations over the national debt. Social Security cannot be addressed through the budget reconciliation process Democrats are attempting to use to deliver Biden’s promises.

Social Security’s turn will come, said Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., chairman of the House Social Security subcommittee and author of legislation to tackle shortfalls that would leave the program unable to pay full benefits in less than 15 years. His bill would raise payroll taxes while also changing the COLA formula to give more weight to health care expenses and other costs that weigh more heavily on the elderly. Larson said he intends to press ahead next year.

“This one-time shot of COLA is not the antidote,” he said.

Although Biden’s domestic package includes a major expansion of Medicare to cover dental, hearing and vision care, Larson said he hears from constituents that seniors are feeling neglected by the Democrats.

“In town halls and tele-town halls they’re saying, ‘We are really happy with what you did on the child tax credit, but what about us?’” Larson added. “In a midterm election, this is a very important constituency.”

The COLA is only one part of the annual financial equation for seniors. An announcement about Medicare’s Part B premium they pay for outpatient care is expected soon. It’s usually an increase, so at least some of any Social Security raise gets eaten up by health care. The Part B premium is now $148.50 a month, and the Medicare trustees report estimated a $10 increase for 2022.

Economist Marilyn Moon, who also served as public trustee for Social Security and Medicare, said she believes the current spurt of inflation will be temporary, due to highly unusual economic circumstances.

“I would think there is going to be an increase this year that you won’t see reproduced in the future,” Moon said.

But policymakers should not delay getting to work on retirement programs, she said.

“We’re at a point in time where people don’t react to policy needs until there is a sense of desperation, and both Social Security and Medicare are programs that benefit from long-range planning rather short-range machinations,” she said.

Social Security is financed by payroll taxes collected from workers and their employers. Each pays 6.2% on wages up to a cap, which is adjusted each year for inflation. Next year the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security payroll taxes will increase to $147,000.

The financing scheme dates to the 1930s, the brainchild of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who believed a payroll tax would foster among average Americans a sense of ownership that would protect the program from political interference.

That argument still resonates. “Social Security is my lifeline,” said Ruderman, the New York retiree. “It’s what we’ve worked for.”

Court orders Cal U. to pay O-R’s legal fees in open records case
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The state’s Commonwealth Court is requiring California University of Pennsylvania to pay nearly $16,000 in legal fees and penalties after the school acted in “bad faith” in its response to an open records request more than three years ago from the Observer-Reporter about a corporate donation.

The court released its decision Wednesday ordering Cal U. to pay $14,298 to the newspaper for legal fees, along with a $1,500 civil penalty for stifling a reporter’s specific requests for documents related to financial donations a construction company made to a charitable arm of the university.

“We are extremely pleased by the court’s decision, and that this costly, protracted litigation over access to public records has finally come to a close,” said Liz Rogers, executive editor of the Observer-Reporter.

The case stems from an open records request brought by former staff writer Gideon Bradshaw in August 2018 for documents showing donations made by Mt. Lebanon-based Manheim Corp. to The Foundation for Cal U.

Manheim was awarded a contract in 2009 to build the university’s new $13 million Vulcan garage, which partially collapsed on move-in day in August 2016. No one was injured, but the 6-year-old garage was closed to vehicles out of continued safety concerns. The university sued Manheim, but settled with the contractor for $3.75 million in September 2020 to pay for repairs and eventually reopen the garage.

Bradshaw requested all records involving donations from Manheim to The Foundation from 2008 through 2012, eventually showing that the company donated nearly $68,000 during the time.

The state Office of Open Records ruled in the newspaper’s favor; however, the university at first refused to release those records and went to court to argue that it had a legal basis to withhold them. After an unsuccessful appeal to the state Supreme Court in 2019, university officials said The Foundation had searched its archives and determined no records existed. The continued legal battle resulted in a Commonwealth Court precedent that records of private companies’ donations, unlike those of individuals, are subject to the state open records law.

The newspaper contended that Cal U. acted in bad faith by waiting as long as it did to check for the existence of those records. The Commonwealth Court agreed in its ruling Wednesday.

“In sum, the Court concludes that the University engaged in bad faith and frivolous conduct in denying (the newspaper’s) RTKL request without first determining whether The Foundation had potentially responsive records in its possession, in asserting its first basis for denying the request, and in litigating both bases for its denial on appeal,” according to the court’s opinion.

However, the court ruled that the university did not act in bad faith in its initial response to the original open records request, but did so when Bradshaw made more specific references in his appeals.

Washington attorney Colin Fitch represented the newspaper during the proceedings.

A university spokesman said officials just received the opinion Wednesday afternoon and were reviewing it.