By Anna Jauhola
One thing the coronavirus pandemic did was push many entities toward using technology to better connect with the public. The Kittson Central and Lancaster school districts have been no different throughout the last 18 months. The schools have worked to ensure everyone could watch games remotely when the schools had to restrict crowds. At first they live streamed games on Facebook, then both schools chose different streaming services during the 2020-21 academic year. But this year, the schools synched up and are members of the NFHS Network, a streaming service that broadcasts high school sports.
Jami Carr, Kittson Central’s activities director, said NFHS approached the school last year and the board approved the system prior to the basketball season. Lancaster signed on to the system this year, said Drew Kjono, Lancaster activities director. Dual cameras are installed in the high school and elementary gymnasiums in Hallock, and the cameras are installed in Lancaster’s west gym and the east gym. The cameras follow the action on the court and coverage is seamless.
While the equipment didn’t cost either school a dime, installation was about $2,500. For those who want to watch high school sports, there is a subscription fee, either annually or per month.
Eventually, each school will also receive a certain percentage of all subscriptions, Carr said.
“They (NFHS) at least want to recover the cost of their equipment so they’ll get all the subscription fees for the first three to four years,” Carr said. “Then we start getting a percentage back because they also acknowledge that it could have affected our ticket sales.”
This system allows anyone who wants to watch the Bearcats play volleyball and basketball to watch from the comfort of their own home. It’s perfect for grandparents who don’t want to or can’t go out in the cold, or live far away, or perhaps snowbirds, Carr said. And the feedback from subscribers has been positive. Parents of student athletes say they’ve set up the system for grandparents and it has worked very well.
Football is not streamed as each school only has a few home games. And the hockey program chose last year to install the Live Barn streaming system.
The NFHS system is fully automated — Carr and Anneliese Johnson upload the sports schedules or send it to the network and they input the information.
“Then it automatically turns on the cameras 15 minutes before the start of an event,” she said.
Carr estimates about half of the schools in the region have signed on with the NFHS Network, which allows subscribers to watch home games as well as several of the away games.
Cameras in both gymnasiums allows Kittson Central to stream volleyball tournaments, but also junior varsity and varsity games.
“We were feeling kind of strapped by the stipulation it needed to be a high school event,” Carr said.
Eventually, the NFHS company agreed the second set of cameras could go in the elementary gym in Hallock because they host varsity volleyball tournaments and use that gym.
Carr said the cameras can also be used to live stream other school events. Lancaster could live stream concerts or graduation, which are always held in the west gym. Either school could also live stream pep fests.
The NHFS system also allows for replays.
“Once an event is over, it stays on our NFHS account,” Carr said. “We can make it available for video on demand where if you have a subscription you can go back and watch it.”
So far, the concept has caught on with between 20 and 30 subscribers watching games.
“I’m thrilled with it. I really like not having to do anything with it,” Carr said. “It’s hands-off. It has a banner on the bottom with the scoreboard too. It displays the score and time remaining on the clock. So it really gives you a professional feel.”
Feedback from the Lancaster community has also been positive, Kjono said.
“Picture clarity and high quality has been the biggest feedback,” he said.
Coaches are also happy with the new system as it provides better quality film for their film study after games.
“It is also convenient for the members of our communities to be able to have one account where they can watch Bearcats home events in either Lancaster or Hallock,” Kjono said.
If you want to subscribe to the network for the nights you just can’t make it to the game, you can visit nfhsnetwork.com and click subscribe now. The subscription allows you to watch high school sports not only in the region, but at any NFHS member school across the country.
By Anna Jauhola