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High School Sports Programs Turn To Livestream Alternatives For Fans

Joe Deacon
Unable to have crowds of spectators at their sporting events, many high schools in central Illinois are live-streaming their games. .

While high school basketball and other sports are back in action in central Illinois, limitations remain on the number of spectators allowed, if any. So, schools have started turning to live-streaming the events for fans and family members.

Peoria Notre Dame high school has been broadcasting its home basketball games for free on YouTube so fans who can't be in the gym can still see how the teams are faring. Athletic Director Dave Rudolph says it was imperative to make sure people would have the ability to see the student-athletes play their games.

“The reality is, if we're limiting fans of the games, I just want people to be able to view them,” said Rudolph. “So we did everything we could to have a decent quality livestream for our fans that can't actually attend the games.”

The Irish’s broadcasts have attracted as many as 2,000 viewers at times, and using YouTube allows the games to be watched even after they're over.

Many other schools are working with the NFHS Network subscription service to broadcast live sports. Morton AD Scott Jones said his program has been a high-ranking NFHS participant for several years.

“One of the nice things and the things that we were able to do is we purchased the license agreement through NFHS Network to be able to offer our games for free so people don't have to pay for the subscription,” said Jones. “We’re able to just broadcast them like we would any board meeting, and so people can access those on there for free.”

Central Catholic High School in Bloomington did not have live-streaming before the pandemic. Now the school has an automatic camera it uses to stream all of its sports, from freshman to varsity. Lex Osterbuhr oversees the live stream for the school and admits it took a little while to get things running smoothly. 

“We had some bumps in the road during those first couple games and we received some friendly feedback, just saying, ‘hey, I would love to be able to see the clock (and) I would love to be able to see the score,’ which of course that’s a big part of the game,” said Osterbuhr. “We were able to work that out pretty quickly, and by our second or third game we had all that up and going.”

At Normal Community High School, the camera for its subscription service has been down so events there have been streaming on its YouTube and Facebook pages. That means viewing has been free for everyone.

Nic Kearfott, the AD at NCHS, said the school had been streaming most sporting events even before the pandemic.

“My goal is that we don't miss any home games, especially the freshman games in the small gym,” said Kearfott. “We’re not allowed to have spectators right now, so I want to make sure we do everything we can so people are still going to be able to watch their kids play.”

Kearfott said a recent NCHS game demonstrated how the ability to stream events makes them available to some family members who wouldn't normally be in attendance.

“The parents really enjoy it and like it, and I know some people had relatives in relatives in Iowa and Wisconsin where their grandparents were watching it, which typically they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do,” he said.

Rudolph said Notre Dame’s tech department and students from the digital media and production class have assisted with the broadcasts, which also feature commentators. He said he anticipates live-streaming will remain popular even after the pandemic.

“When we bought all the equipment, we bought it thinking we would use it in years to come,” said Rudolph. “I don't know if it will quite be the production that it is when fans are present. But we definitely plan on live streaming in the future.”

Osterbuhr also believes the online broadcasts will continue beyond the current year.

“A lot of people might prefer to stay at home and watch it from the comfort of their couch, or if they have little ones at home or the weather isn't great ... I think it's still a great option,” she said.

Jones said he believes the convenience of watching high school sports from home instead of packed in the stands is here to stay.

“We have a small gymnasium, and we draw big crowds for girls and boys games; we always have,” said Jones. “So I do think that there's going to be people that – as long as we're having the broadcasts and they're able to have that same experience, watching their dancers perform at halftime and their cheer perform at halftime – I do think people will tend to stay home.

“You know, maybe extended family will stay home instead of kind of cramming in there together because I just don't think that's ever going to go back to normal. At least not for a while, for another year or so.”

The administrators said they expect to provide live streams of spring sports such as football and volleyball as well.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.