HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Every Thursday after the final bell rings at Hannibal High School, it's time to duel.
About 30 teens ranging from freshmen to seniors eagerly walk to the first-floor classroom decorated with a "Game of Thrones" shield, anime drawings, Minecraft swords, "Star Wars" and more and begin to pull out various activities for the next hour or so.
One popular activity is Yu-Gi-Oh! Other favorites are Pokemon, Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, trivia and board games.
The students are part of the school's Gamers Club, and the club serves as an outlet for students to socialize, connect with their school and develop problem-solving and other skills not always taught in the classroom.
The Gamers Club was formed five years ago after four freshmen wanted an after-school club to meet and play games. Brock Sousa, who works in the school's special services and is a gamer himself, agreed to oversee and sponsor the club.
The four started out by playing card games, board games and some video games. Sousa brought in various games that he had, and one family donated old Yu-Gi-Oh! cards to the club.
The following year, the club grew to eight members. At that point, math teacher Corey Lovelace joined Sousa in overseeing and sponsoring the club, and he donated several old Magic cards, too.
The club put up flyers around the school three years ago looking for new members, and that is when the club really started to grow.
This fall semester marks the Gamers Club's highest membership number yet at 31 students.
Teaching problem solving
"To see the club grow from four students to where it is now is so great," Sousa said. "A lot of these kids aren't in sports or anything else at school, so oftentimes, the club is their only connection to the school.
"This club gives them something to look forward to each week and allows them to feel like they have a place to belong."
Many students find others who are interested in the same games as they are, and they develop friendships.
"I really enjoy coming here because I can play card games with others, and we have a central meeting spot to play," freshman Brandon Rickard said. "I enjoy finding people who challenge me at games like Yu-Gi-Oh!, and by playing others, it helps me work on my Yu-Gi-Oh! deck to make it better. We also can trade cards."
Senior Del Witthouse agreed.
"I like how the club gets people together. We can't all meet at each other's kitchen tables to play," he explained. "This way, it's a fun, central spot, and I can meet new people."
Witthouse has been in the club since his freshman year.
"It's nice to see it grow over the years," he said.
With the club's continued growth, Sousa and Lovelace added a mission statement to the club last year.
They eliminated the option of playing video games because that doesn't allow for much group interaction, and they outlined goals for the club.
"They club teaches the students many things while they're having fun," Sousa said. "It teaches them social etiquette, problem solving and how to lose with grace. Losing with grace is a big policy of ours."
Building the collection
Not all 31 members attend the club each week because of sports or other obligations, and club activities typically end about 4 p.m. when a bus designated for activities picks up students at school and takes them home.
Sousa, Lovelace and the club members look forward to growing the club membership and its collection of games. They are currently fundraising to purchase additional games.
"All of the games we play are my favorite, and I like having the chance to try new ones," freshman Adrian Bailey said.
"We love hanging out here and having fun together," Sousa said. "The club is a great opportunity for these students for many reasons, and we're excited to be attracting more members each year."