Local schools plan on streaming potential winter sports events

If the winter sports season does take place, the local high schools plan on providing a live video stream of their events from their local gyms.

Streaming is particularly desirable this year due to Gov. Ralph Northam’s guidelines that limit in-person gatherings to 25 spectators for athletic events due to COVID-19 concerns.

Clarke County is using the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) program with Pixellot cameras, while the Frederick County schools of James Wood, Milllbrook and Sherando are using Hudl, which will be free of charge. Handley — which has previously streamed a couple of basketball games through Twitch — is looking into streaming but has not decided on a service yet.

Today is the first official day of practice for Virginia High School League basketball, but none of the local schools are currently holding full-scale workouts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Frederick County Public Schools and Winchester Public Schools have postponed their winter sports seasons and will re-evaluate their status after they return from their winter breaks on Jan. 4.

In terms of sports that Clarke County could stream in its gym, basketball teams will compete in games no earlier than Jan. 8. The administrative teams at Clarke County High School and Clarke County Public Schools are recommending to the CCPS School Board that the wrestling season be canceled (the sport involves significant contact, which makes it a high-risk sport in terms of possible COVID-19 transmission). Those administrative teams are also recommending that sideline cheer be canceled due to the health and safety protocols required for them and the spectator limitations.

Winchester-Frederick schools are still making decisions on who will be part of their 25-person spectator limit. (“Participants” are defined as players, coaches, officials, school event staff and school administration critical to the operations of the contests, media, law enforcement, and medical services.) Cheerleaders are counted as spectators.

For Clarke County, the plan for now at basketball games is to have up to 25 JV parents that sit on one half of the bleachers that are across the gym from the bench area, and then they’ll have to clear out so the varsity parents can enter and sit on the other half. The side with the bench area for the players will feature chairs that are six feet apart from each other. The status for wrestling and sideline cheer won’t be known prior to Dec. 14, when the CCPS School Board meets.

As far as video streaming for the Frederick County schools, some of their teams had already been using Hudl to film their events and keep track of statistics.

Millbrook coordinator of student activities Scott Mankins said FCPS recognized a while ago that spectator attendance would be limited. During an interview last Monday, Mankins said Millbrook’s camera had been delivered that day and will be mounted above the press box in Casey Gymnasium.

Schools enter the program information into the Hudl service, and the camera turns itself on when the event starts.

Mankins said Millbrook would eventually like a camera for its outdoor stadium so it can record football, soccer and track & field. Mankins said Millbrook football coach Josh Haymore talked to him about that last winter after seeing a promotion for a Hudl camera in the fall. Millbrook wanted to make it happen, but that plan was put on the backburner because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When Hudl offered its mounted camera and streaming service again this summer, discussions to use it again picked up.

James Wood and Sherando will also stream games from their gyms with mounted cameras.

 

Colonels CSA Craig Woshner is not sure what process his school might use to stream outdoor events, but James Wood has discussed setting up WiFi hotspots that might also permit baseball and softball streaming through Hudl. Woshner also has thought about having multiple feeds for a track event — one specifically fixated on running and others for the field events — through Hudl or YouTube Live.

“It’s going to be a learning curve for all of us,” Wosher said. “But I also don’t think [streaming numerous events] is rocket science. I think it can be done.”

Hudl can be set up to charge users a fee for subscriptions, but the Frederick County schools decided to make it free for the 2020-21 school year because of circumstances involved with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Fans not being able to attend games isn’t going to be because they’re choosing not to attend games,” Mankins said. “It’s going to be because of the circumstances that we’re facing with reduced crowds, if we have any crowds at all. So this year, even though we’re not making any money from gate receipts, we’re not interested in trying to make money from our fans this year. We simply want to be able to give them an opportunity to continue to support the teams and watch the games.”

If athletics return closer to normal in 2021-22, subscription fees can be revisited.

“We have the opportunity to possibly capture some revenue,” Woshner said. “If there are family members out of town that wouldn’t be able to make a trip up for a game, or if parents were out of town, we would be able to sell a subscription or a per-game subscription and hopefully generate some more revenue, which is going to be badly needed after this year.”

In an interview last Monday, Clarke County director of athletics Casey Childs said the Eagles will have cameras installed Dec. 21 and games will be available to view online shortly after that. One camera will be in the gym and one will be outdoors at Wilbur M. Feltner Stadium. Once the cameras are installed fans can watch basketball, wrestling, volleyball, competition cheer, football and soccer.

The Pixellot cameras do not require operators. Schools install their event information and the camera automatically turns on once the event starts.

“We’re excited about having this opportunity for our community,” Childs said. “From what I understand, it’s pretty user-friendly for the school as well as the fans.”

In basketball, football, volleyball and soccer — all sports in which the NFHS system will be in use — Clarke County’s schedule consists entirely of Bull Run District schools. Childs said prior to Thanksgiving, every school in the Bull Run was set to install the Pixellot cameras, with the exception of Rappahannock County, which uses Hudl. So parents who can’t go to road games could use NFHS to watch those events.

To view games on NFHS, fans can pay a $10.99 monthly subscription or a $69.99 yearly subscription. Each school that broadcasts games gets a percentage of the revenue generated by the subscription fees.

“We’re hoping with these subscriptions, we’re going to be able to recoup some of the revenue that we normally would get [under normal circumstances],” Childs said.

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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