Live from OFSAA

Team of students stream the action online

It used to be that if you were a high school athlete competing in a game out of town, your parents and siblings found out how you did later that evening when you walked through the door at home and threw your bag of stinky gym clothes onto the floor. Or by taking a day off work and making the trek to see you perform live.

Not anymore.

Today, such Rockwellian ideas have given way to a surge in social media blasts and online coverage driven largely by students. This high-tech adjustment to the way we do sports is allowing mom and dad and grandma and anyone else to follow and even watch the action in real time from wherever they are.

“It’s crowdsourced yearbooking, essentially,” Hamilton District Christian High School principal Nathan Siebenga says.

Consider what’s happening at his school this week during the OFSAA girls’ A volleyball championships. For those out of the high school loop, that’s the Ontario championship for small schools.

While the games are going on, 25 or 30 HDCH Grade 10 communications technology students and another group from Toronto District Christian High are operating three cameras, directing, doing sound, onscreen graphics and providing play-by-play of every bump, set and spike at three different locations. Then streaming it online.

Think of it as TSN for teens, by teens.

It costs the host school nothing except volunteer hours. But it’s making school sports accessible in a way it never has been before. And it’s not just at HDCH.

“We’ve definitely had a rise in streaming,” says OFSAA communications co-ordinator Devin Gray. “It’s almost like in championships, it’s now expected.”

That may be a tiny bit of an overstatement. Today he figures less than half of the provincial championship tournaments are aired live. Most of those that are being done are indoor sports which are far easier to cover than events like downhill skiing and golf.

But he expects that within three years the number will exceed 75 per cent.

Each year at convenors’ meetings, the topic is raised organizers are told to feel free to take a crack at it.

“It’s something we’re encouraging for sure,” Gray says.

The benefits are obvious. In addition to allowing parents and grandparents to watch live streaming allows reporters to keep up on local teams’ performances without having to travel which should lead to greater coverage. The extra eyeballs could also make attracting sponsors easier. And allow university coaches to watch possible recruits.

Then there’s the potential for a new kind of community-building that never before existed. Rather than sending busloads of students to an event, kids could gather in the gym in front of a big screen and watch their friends compete a championship game.

“Wouldn’t that be cool?” Gray says.

It’s not just streaming, either. High schools are one of the most fertile spots in society for social media. For an athlete, having their name and photo pop up on Twitter – OFSAA has official Twitter accounts for all their championships that are passed on to the organizers to use from year to year – is a big deal. Having a big athletic moment richochet around the online hotspots is no insignificant thing.

“That’s social cache for them,” Gray says.

The HDCH students behind this began preparing for this in the fall. They used the recent SOSSA championship and the Ontario college volleyball championships as practice runs. Then on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, they worked as many as 12 hours a day to cover every single point of the entire event.

The down side to all this? With the ability to watch their kids play, a whole bunch of parents are likely frittering away their day at the office with their computer screens locked onto volleyball rather than being otherwise productive.

Siebenga laughs at the thought. “I hope they have a Boss Button.”

Article by Scott Radley @radleyatthespec.
Reprinted with permission from The Hamilton Spectator.