Our next Trading Card Spotlight features John Grunwald, creator of The Fairfield Esports Club, who is displayed on card number 3998, from the Superstars of 2021 Collection.  John founded the Fairfield Esports club in 2018 and since then has grown it into a very competitive team. The start of the club was Fortnite but then expanded into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and League of Legends. In 2020 Rocket League and Mario Kart were on the list of competitive games. John is adding a new Esports arena and has plans to create a “National High School Esports Award Ceremony” that will showcase and honor high school esports organizations from around the U.S.

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘Esports’?

When I first heard about esports, I could only ask “What is that?”.  With my experience now, the first thing that comes to mind with esports is “Opportunities”.  What doors can esports open for students for employment opportunities and skills as well as avenues to go on and further their education.

What encouraged you to create an ESports League in Fairfield?

School had just started, and I heard the term “esports”, and I had no idea what it was.  I was preparing for a technology conference and decided to look up what it was.  I quickly learned that it was competitive video games.  I thought that was cool.  Within a couple weeks, I was at the homecoming game, and they were announcing the homecoming court and several of the court mentioned that they played Fotnite.  I got really excited thinking that maybe we could form a team.  I also looked right past the games and thought about several students coming together to play as a team that might not normally hang out together.  I approached our Curriculum Director and Superintendent and they saw the same benefits beyond the games…the relationships and the opportunities that are provided through this avenue.

Where did you grow up and when did you move to Fairfield, Iowa?

I was raised in Marshall, Wisconsin.  I moved to Bonaparte, Iowa in 1993 and began teaching.  I then moved to Fairfield in 2010.

What does it take to be an ESports coordinator?

I think to be an esports coordinator, you need to have a passion.  This is such uncharted water that there can be opposition along the way.  You need to be able to stay excited about what you are doing and what you want to see and not give up.  You also need to be flexible and know that not everyone will want to support you, but if you can find a way to find a hook for people, then they will see your passion and excitement and want to follow and support.  You also will need to be able to work with others as you forge your path.  I have had to work closely with the sponsors of other activities to make sure shared students can be successful in all areas.  Lastly, just like being in a game, you need to be able to be creative and think outside the box. I don’t have any money for new machines…. how can I come up with a way to fund this?  What can I do to show everyone what my students can do and how successful they can be?

Growing up, what did you see yourself doing as an adult?

From little on, I had always wanted to be a music teacher.  I attended Luther College and graduated with my BA in Music Education, I then went on to complete my Masters in Music Education from Boston University

Have you ever received any media coverage for your trading card?  If so, where?

Yes, the local paper in Fairfield ran a story before the card was presented in Wisconsin.

When did you first meet Walter Day and where was it at?

I first met Walter in Fairfield after he threw out the first pitch at a Fairfield High School Baseball game. https://ktvo.com/news/local/father-of-esports-throws-first-pitch   Shortly before that day, I was in Wisconsin and heard the advertisement that he was going to throw out the first pitch in Appleton at a minor league game.  He was named the “Father of Esports”.  That caught my ear and then I realized he lived in Fairfield.  We had an esports club for about a year and a half at that time and never knew he was right in out backyard.  One of our volunteer coaches made contact with him and he was excited to talk with us about our club.  We then met in our esports arena, and the idea of this card was born as well as the idea of a National High School Esports Award Ceremony in Fairfield.  The friendship has continued since.

What seems to be the most popular game with the teams and why?

Our club started with Fortnite, but then I brought in League of Legends.  That was a game changer for different reasons.  Right on those heals, we started Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, and the club blew up from there.  In a matter of a week or two, we had 20 students in the room wanting to play.  I think the reasons they were big games for us is simply the fact that the students were playing already, and we just opened the door.  We did try some other titles that definitely did not take off as much.  I think it was a matter of the right place at the right time.

If you could describe Walter Day in one word, what would that word be and why?

If I had to choose one word for Walter, I would have to say Passionate.  From my first conversation with him, I could hear and feel the passion in our conversation.  This excitement that was generated from the passion was very contagious.  I was walking so tall after speaking with him the first time and the extra opportunities we have worked together on to honor esports students and to elevate the image of esports.  This has been so fast and exciting, and it was born from his passion that started many years ago and involved a few quarters.

What is your favorite type of fighting game and why?

Since I have not had much personal experience with the more modern games, I am not sure what would be my favorite type of fighting game.  I am really excited about SSBU, but I also loved playing League of Legends.  I was not very good, but I really enjoyed it and the team aspect.  Sitting back and watching my teams play and listening to them communicate is amazing to me.

How is your involvement in Esports important to you?

Why my involvement in esports is important to me is that I feel that there are many students that might have the skills needed for athletic scholarships or fine arts type scholarships, but there are many students that don’t quite fit into those categories.  Creating an esports club gave many of these students a place to belong at school and a community they can comfortably participate in.  Beyond that, I have seen many relationships forged with students across many different lines.  If I can continue to provide a conduit for this to grow, then it is important to me.

What is one fond memory of Esports Competition with your gamers?

One fond memory I have from esports was the fact that we had a student in our club who struggled in the classroom.  They became involved with the club and were very active.  A reporter came to do a story on our club and interviewed him.  I overheard him telling the reporter that he loved to play the game, but never thought about it as more than entertainment.  Now, he said he had a goal of going to college and playing on a college team.  To me, that was incredible to hear.  This student went on a couple trips with us to play in tournaments and was always one of the first students to go and greet the other teams and create those bonds.

What are your favorite video games past and present?

I would say that for past games, there were always games like Asteroid or Donkey Kong.  Moving a little later, I had two favorites that were quite opposite.  One was a first-person shooter called “Prime Target” and about the same time, I was really excited to get emerged into “Myst”.  More modern games, I would say one of my favorites is “League of Legends”.

Who is your favorite sports figure and what makes that person special?

I tend to not necessarily be a fan of specific sports figures, however, there is one that comes to might immediately when I think of that question. I have always been a Green Bay Packer fan, and my favorite sports figure would have to come from that camp.  This person seemed to be so kind, gentle and honest.  He was a man of integrity.  Yet, in a game, he could be a fierce competitor that you would fear.  Given a chance to go back in time to meet any sports figure…I would love to have met the “Minister of Defense”, Mr. Reggie White.

Did you play video games growing up and what were some of your favorites?

I have played video games to some extent for my entire life.  I remember playing the classic hand-held football games.  After that, I spent many hours playing the Atari.  My favorite games at that time had to be “Asteroids” and “Jungle Hunt” and “Breakout”.  In high school I started playing on the computers and playing “Ultima”.  Eventually I started playing “Warcraft” and “Myst”.  Then came life and family.  Now I am getting back in and again, one of my favorites is “League of Legends” and a much lesser-known game “Killer Queen Black”.

If you can design your own video game, what would it be about and who would be the main character?

This is a combination of two memories.  I once took a coding class and had to create a game.  I based it on the idea of “Whack-A-Mole” and created a firefighting game where you would see a house with several windows.  If fire showed up in the window, you squirted it with water, put the fire out and got points.  If you squirted a fireman or someone who lived in the house, you lost points.  There were also things like matches or smoke alarms that might pop up.  If they were bad, you squirted them for points and if they were positive, you lost points if you squirted them.  This would help to teach fire safety.  Secondly, I remember seeing an actual firefighting game where you went through a burning building to fight the fires and save the people.  If I could design any video game, it would be something along those lines.  A first-person firefighting game and the main character would be YOU!

What are your opinions about today’s generation of video games? 

I feel that today’s games are so much more realistic and involved.  Like many of the classic gamers, we had one or two joysticks and maybe two or three buttons.  The controls the students have to master now are incredible.  Each action could be one of many options depending on which way the joystick points and what combination of buttons you use.  Playing games with a keyboard can also complicate the game and knowing which action each of your fingers do.  Mad props for those skills!

Do you believe some video games are too violent and lead to violence in America today?

I know this is a very hot topic.  I believe that the games are much more realistic, and that scares people.  However, I also feel that all people of all ages have the ability tell the difference between what is real and what is not.  Violence is a choice that is made and not necessarily determined by a video game.

If you could own one arcade game or pinball game, what would it be and why?  I have always wanted to play and own a “Dragon’s Lair” arcade game.  I have always thought it was really cool that the graphics were like an actual cartoon, and it was like a “Choose your own adventure” book in video form.  That is what I would love to have personally.  In the realm of esports, I would love to have a “Donkey Kong” game in our arena as a nod to our history with Walter.

Are you still involved with the Esports team, and what role do you play?

I am the Technology Administrator for our school district.  I also had played some video games when I was younger, but many of these games were completely foreign to me.  So, I rallied some students and then found some parents and co-workers who were just as passionate about the club.  I have let them do the coaching, but I act as the general manager for our district.  I help to set up scrimmages and competitions.  I help find tournaments, and I help find scholarship opportunities for our students.  Beyond the games, we have livestreaming opportunities and I help set up the equipment and train the students.  Above and beyond esports in our district, I have also helped to write the bylaws for the IAHSEA (Iowa High School Esports Association) and I have sat on the executive team for two years as the Vice-President.  I keep finding ways to promote esports in a positive light and provide opportunities for students of every kind.

What do you see yourself doing in the next 10 years?

Hopefully in ten years I will be retired and relaxing in the woods on my pier at the lake in Wisconsin.


This is one of an ongoing series of articles based on the Walter Day Collection of e-sports/video gaming trading cards – check out more information at thewalterdaycollection.com.


Todd Friedman Todd Friedman (396 Posts)

Todd Friedman is heavily involved in the retro gaming community and has co-promoted the Video Game Summit in Chicago, IL for the past 16 years. He also has published 2 books and written for various different gaming magazines including Old School Gamer.