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Students Find Community, Success in Gaming Club

Students Find Community, Success in Gaming Club
Two students work together on a game

They've logged plenty of wins since forming about four years ago, including a state championship title earlier this school year.

But for the advisor and students behind the popular Solar Flare Gaming Club at Southridge High, accolades aren't the real draw.

Instead, it's the sense of community that comes when you're doing something you love alongside your friends.

"We have fun and we have a good community here. We're always laughing," said Skylar Phanekham, a Southridge junior and a leader in the gaming club.

"In this club, students have the opportunity to be themselves. I love it. That's all I can say. This is the club I care about," he said.

Solar Flare is one of many clubs and extra-curricular activities in our district that give students a chance to hone skills, build connections, gain confidence and find their place in school. 

Activities and athletics are supported by levy dollars, and Educational Programs & Operations Levy on the ballot on Feb. 14 includes $3.9 million to keep those activities happening in our district. 

Learn more about the levy at

The Solar Flare club centers on video and computer gaming, with students playing everything from Overwatch to Super Smash Bros.

Jason Giancola and Scott Loar, both staff members at Southridge, are the advisors.

On a given afternoon, anywhere from five to 20 or more students gather in Giancola's room to practice. 

A recent session saw students collaborating on several games – some sitting side-by-side with controllers, others on separate computer consoles. 

Giancola, who teaches computer science, drafting, engineering and architecture, said he encourages students to do their best in practice and competition and he's proud of their successes, including the Super Smash Bros. team's recent state championship title.

But, "I often tell're here to have fun and be present with everybody else," win or lose.

That's exactly what was happening during the recent practice session. 

Laughter filled with the room, along with shouts of encouragement and excited chatter about the games, classes and life in general.

Skylar sat with some friends and watched them play a game, offering advice and expertise.

Then he took his turn at the controller. A smile spread across his face.

The club gives him a sense of community at Southridge, he said, and "it's important to have a community because you get to be yourself."

Southridge gaming club members


Students react while playing a video game


Close-up of a student smiling while playing a video game


A student smiles slightly while playing a video game


Close-up of a video game controller


Student smiles in profile as he plays a video game


Student laughs while playing a video game


A student shown in profile laughs while playing a game