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High school sports

With no fans in stands, streaming becomes main connection

Knox, Waldo, Lincoln county schools to provide streams of winter athletic events
By Zack Miller | Jan 04, 2021

As the pandemic has upended lives in one way or the other, it also has ushered in the more prevalent and important streaming era of high school sports.

Livestreaming has been around for years, but the mode of viewing from afar has never been more vital than during the pandemic.

In the fall, most Midcoast high schools offered some form of streaming of its athletic events, due to the fact spectators, for many institutions, were not allowed to attend in-person due to COVID-19 safety protocols.

As the winter sports season approaches — with the scheduled team-oriented start of practices on Monday, Jan. 4 and regional games set to begin Monday through Saturday, Jan. 11-16 — high schools in Knox, Waldo and Lincoln counties again will turn to the internet to get spectators engaged with events.

That is important because spectators will not be allowed to attend indoor high school winter sporting events.

Mount View High School of Thorndike, Medomak Valley High School of Waldoboro, Searsport District High School, Belfast Area High School and Oceanside High School of Thomaston will offer streaming services through a variety of channels. Camden Hills Regional High School of Rockport plans to offer streaming of its basketball games, but, according to Windjammer athletic director Jeff Hart "they are working on it."

Vinalhaven School and North Haven Community School will not participate in interscholastic sports this winter. Islesboro Central School may participate in scrimmage events.

The following is a breakdown of how to view winter sports livestreams, as well as replays, for Midcoast high schools:

Mount View

The Mustangs again will set up a camera and provide coverage of its athletic programs in the winter, just as it did in the fall.

All games streamed will be available on its RSU 3 Athletics YouTube page, and all previous streams from the fall season are available.

"As a parent and grandparent I can't tell you how much I've loved watching them play," said Mount View athletic director Tom Lynch. "It breaks my heart that we can't have our parents and grandparents at our games right now. The streaming is all we have, and I am very grateful to the people in our system that are making this happen. I know it's not the same as being there, but it's all we have for now."

Medomak Valley

The Panthers offered multiple avenues to watch their fall high school contests, as Medomak Valley used Facebook Live, as well as Penny and Charlie Crockett of Maine Coast TV.

Games will be streamed live on the Medomak Valley Boosters Facebook page, and fall contests can be found for replay. Games broadcasted by the Crocketts will be linked to the Facebook page as well.

"We will gladly have the Crocketts here as much as we can in this winter," said Medomak Valley athletic director Matt Lash. "They provided a very important and valuable service this fall for our families and athletes."

Searsport

The Vikings joined in on streaming in the fall season as well, and will continue the trend in the winter sports season, as  contests will be streamed live on the Searsport Athletics YouTube page.

Viking athletic director Chris Hart said he is "hoping to add live commentary to the video" as well.

Searsport will have girls and boys varsity basketball as well as middle school boys and girls basketball this winter.

"We are very hopeful that the state will allow a winter sports season," Hart said.

Oceanside

The Mariners offered streams of their high school contests in the fall and plan to do the same when the winter season begins.

Athletic director Molly Bishop said the streams will be available on the school's website VimeoRSU13 — past fall sports season streams from 2020 can be found there as well — while information which pertains to away game streams can be found at the RSU13 athletics page.

Camden Hills

After opting out of the 2020 fall sports season — except for cross country and golf — the Windjammers are back to it for the winter, although streaming may be tough to pull off at the high school.

"We'll stream as much as we can," said Hart. "Hockey has a live feed [at the Midcoast Recreation Center arena] so that will be easy for them to stream their scrimmages.

"We are a little up in the air with basketball because we only have half a gym, because the other half is a cafeteria. It's not like we can just put a camera up in there, but our plan right now is to have some games [played in the gym] and some games at the new middle school."

Hart said if they get livestreams up and running for contests they will be streamed through Facebook Live on the Camden Hills Regional High School Athletics page.

"We are going to try to do the best we can with that, but it is still up in the air," Hart said. "How we are going to do it, and with half a gym, with the curtain down, it becomes difficult to find a good angle to be able to put cameras up in there and have it follow the action. We would have to have someone in there that's going to be filming it, which is a little bit of a process because we aren't supposed to have any spectators."

Hart reiterated they will do the best they can with streaming "to be able to get them out to parents."

Belfast

Lion athletic director Matt Battani — in his first winter sports season at Belfast — hopes to bring high-quality streams to coaches, athletes and fans, as the school has partnered with the National Federation of State High School Associations Network, with hardware provided by Pixellot.

"The Maine Principals’ Association entered a partnership with Pixellot and the NFHS Network," Battani said. "All of the schools in the state of Maine, through the MPA, have been approached [and asked if they would like to join the network]. A whole bunch of schools around the state are doing it. I don’t know how many exactly, but it’s been heavily advertised to the schools in Maine."

Belfast received the two systems — one for the football field and the other for the gymnasium — for free from Pixellot, and currently is installing the system in the gym with its own staff. The move saves the school the $2,700 installation fee Pixellot charges.

"We have to sign an agreement that they have rights to the content," Battani said. "Once we get the systems for free, we have an obligation to give them our schedule of all our games, and then they stream the games and charge the viewers to watch them to get their money back."

Battani is very excited about what the system brings to the table.

"The Pixellot system is a big advantage because it builds in the score and the clock, like picture-in-picture," Battani said. "It also has an algorithm that follows the play, so I don’t have to pay someone to do the filming. The system follows the flow [of the game], and gives me free recording of pep rallies or any other events in the gym. You can also patch in play-by-play and color commentary through an audio input in the video system."

Despite the excitement, it has been a long process to install the system, especially during a time where remote learning has been so prevalent.

"It’s a massive project to get installed, because we need high speed ethernet cable, we need a whole video processing unit, we are having to run new network cables through the walls of the school and mounting cameras," Battani said. "It’s complicated, because there is a lot of demand from the network for this. Installation has been going on for a few weeks because we had to put in a new network drop, and it’s our first time going through it, so we are figuring it out as we go.

"We aren’t sure how long it’s going to take to get it installed. If we hit more snags then we have to switch out components. We really don’t know how long this could take."

If the system is not ready to go by the time games begin, the backup system of streaming to the RSU71 TV YouTube page with an iPad will be implemented.

"We do have the iPad as backup, but we are really hoping that we are able to stream good quality stuff come Jan. 11 once the games start," Battani said.

If all goes to plan, Battani said most Belfast sporting events from soccer, cross country and football in the fall, to basketball and wrestling in the winter, and spring sports, as well as graduation, plays and other events hosted on the football field or gym will be available for viewing.

If implemented, streams will be live on the NFHS Network website for a fee to view the contest live, but after 72 hours the event will available on the RSU71 TV YouTube page for free.

"To be honest, to ask our tech department to pull off this new feat, in a year when there is so much blended learning, so much remote classes, the increase demand on our school network and resources, we are rolling out tons of technology to try to cope with the challenges with the pandemic, this is another thing on top of it," Battani said. "It’s draining the human resources at the school, but they are doing an amazing job. We are hoping it’s going to be working for that first game."

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