More high schools livestreaming events to offset limits on fans in the stands
Technology has helped get us through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Think Zoom meetings for school and work.
And online grocery shopping and gym classes.
Now, high school sports in Illinois are kicking up their tech game, especially since boys and girls basketball are back in action.
Because there are strict restrictions on fan allotments for high school sporting events, there are instances in which even parents aren't allowed admittance into campus gyms and field houses and pools.
The North Suburban Conference, for instance, allows fans, and just 50 of them, at home games only. No visiting fans. And that means no visiting parents either.
Some conferences and schools don't allow fans or parents at all.
So what do schools do to answer the call from parents who want to see their kids play?
They livestream, of course.
Welcome to the world of YouTube Live, Facebook Live and other streaming services that provide a platform for schools to video games and instantly upload the footage online for parents to watch in real time from home, from work, or from outside the gym in the parking lot.
"The parents are so appreciative to be able to see their kids," said Katie Long Piper, the adviser for HAWK TV, the student run broadcasting program at Naperville Central. "We're so happy that we can be a part of that."
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has a streaming network called the NFHS Network that many schools use as their streaming platform. According to NFHS, views for their fee-based service have more than doubled (2.3 million from 1.1 million) from earlier in this school year.
Many mediums to choose from
But other platforms are thriving as well.
Schools such as Naperville Central are using YouTube right now since the service is free.
During a normal school year, HAWK TV at Naperville Central would focus on broadcasting football games with all the bells and whistles: multiple cameras, graphics, announcers. The outfit would also do a few boys and girls basketball games using the school's built-in cameras in the ceiling of the gym.
But now, the 20 students who are part of the club have expanded their reach to cover other sports such as gymnastics and swimming, which are also feeling the pinch of fan restrictions.
"Since the pandemic started, we have been getting so many requests from coaches from a lot of different sports, asking if we can stream their games," said Naperville Central senior Jakub Bednarik, who is the president of HAWK TV and has been a part of the club all four years of high school. "We weren't sure about doing the sports we had never done before, like with swimming, it was a challenge at first. We had to figure out what is the best way to set up, how many cameras, what kind of equipment do we need.
"But we've done five or six swim meets now since girls swimming in the fall and we've gotten a lot of views. I think they turned out well."
Not surprisingly, HAWK TV's numbers are up due to demand from parents and fans who can't be at the competitions in person. Sometimes, their videos would get less than 50 views in the past. Now, those numbers are in the hundreds.
Bednarik and fellow HAWK TV senior Teddy Hoffman, a lead editor and segment producer as well as the stream director, are very much in tune with why those numbers have increased and how that affects the effort they put into every broadcast.
"Streaming is always a fun thing to do," Hoffman said. "But I take that much extra pride now that more than 45 people are watching and that this is how people are watching their kids compete and there is an amount of extra care that is being taken so that parents can really enjoy it.
"We consider it an honor to show parents their athletes being successful."
Parents get into the act as well
At Stevenson, parents are the ones providing that service to other parents.
Because there are so many sporting events at Stevenson in any one day, athletic officials have recruited parents who are in the stands anyway at home games to become videographers.
"It's nice because we are always looking for ways to partner with parents," Stevenson athletic director Trish Betthauser said. "So many parents want to be involved and this is a way for them to contribute. It's not super high-tech right now, there's no play-by-play. We're just letting it (the camera) roll, following the game, showing the score. But it's still a great way for parents who aren't able to come to see their kids."
Stevenson has six iPads that they send out each night to sports across the spectrum: from basketball to gymnastics, swimming, fencing, badminton and bowling.
Joanne Porto, the mother of Stevenson junior Evan Porto, has filmed the last two boys basketball games for the Patriots.
She was hesitant at first, having never before filmed a live sporting event for public consumption.
"I didn't really want to do it, but I know there are a lot of people at home who want to see the games," Porto said. "My parents are out of state and they want to watch the games and now that livestreaming is a feature, I thought, if no one's going to do it then all the parents and grandparents are going to miss the boat so I decided to volunteer.
"There are parents who can't be here who watch, or maybe they have other kids doing other things and are busy with that. So it helps. Hopefully this is here to stay. Hopefully COVID is not, but this is."