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Bridging the Gap

By Alicia Raymond, Assistant Athletic Director
Sideline support goes virtual, as livestreaming allows families and friends of Titan Nation to cheer from a distance
After a long week of classes and practices, nothing beats the crowd on a fall afternoon when a Titan touchdown is scored; kids run around while students, teachers, and alumni alike, join together for the spirit and camaraderie in Aycock Stadium. Nothing rivals the cheers from Dale Travis Court when a basket is scored, as the Titan mascot slides down the floor into the student section with minutes left on the clock. Nothing is louder than the beaded spirit stick being pumped in the air as the AquaTitans scream during a 50-freestyle split-second race to the finish. 
Titan crowds, cheers and applause haven’t stopped; but are now muted behind screens as fans must watch from home. For the 2020-21 school year and in response to COVID-19, both the VPL and LIS leagues agreed to a “no spectator” rule for all contests to ensure the health and safety of the community. In response, staff members in the athletics and technology departments have worked to bridge the gap between an “in person” and “virtual” experience by streaming all home contests on Youtube. A virtual experience for at home spectators, however, wasn’t a new idea.

Athletic Director Anna Prillaman has envisioned for several years that all home contests might one day be livestreamed. Whether for at-home viewing, for coach analytics, or for highlight reels for potential college applications, streaming of high school athletics is a nationwide trend. “While we would always prefer to have our stands full of cheering Titans from every corner of our community,” says Prillaman, “we also understand providing another avenue for viewership broadens our community support near and far.”

Prillaman’s vision started years ago with a simple computer camera angled at a court, while someone (usually Prillaman herself) hit play and stop with every basketball or volleyball buzzer. The simplistic cell-phone-like recording was streamed live via YouTube. In 2019, partnerships between athletics and technology began to make enhanced livestreaming more of a reality. Software like Wirecast, enabled the addition of school logos, scoreboards, and tickers for the at home viewers; like a rudimentary “Titan ESPN.” The setup, however, demanded a full-time student or faculty member to constantly supervise the program in real-time, only allowing for one contest at a time, generally only games played inside on Trinity’s Dale Travis Court. 

With the prediction of contests without spectators, more advanced streaming began in the fall of 2020. Thanks to the instrumental help of Kyle van de Kamp ’12 and the entire tech department, a once rudimentary “Titan ESPN” was becoming more of a reality. Adam Lonon, Trinity girls head basketball coach and athletic site manager, also stepped in to assist van de Kamp. “After seeing the success from our live-streamed Wirecast contests, I’ve been excited to help bring those capabilities to our other programs,” says Lonon. “Community plays such a key role in Trinity’s culture, and it is comforting that our parents, although socially distant, can still witness first goals or first aces.”

The current setup now uses LiveU Solo, a professional-grade wireless video encoder that allows Trinity to stream virtually anywhere, while Wirecast is still used to add overlays and graphics to the production. High-definition camcorders HDMI allow for not only for the streaming of athletic contests, but also other Trinity events, such as graduation and baccalaureate. Most recently, LiveU Solo was used to stream Trinity’s 11 senior-athletes who signed on National Signing Day.

Additionally, a Hudl Focus camera, a platform that evaluates athletes’ performances with video and analytics, has been installed in the Auxiliary Gym and will also be used when the Titans return to Dale Travis Court. It is a three-lense camera that will livestream without a human having to operate it and will immediately upload the game film for corresponding Hudl accounts.

As the fall 2020 season quickly approached, only “low-risk” sports were initially allowed to have modified contests, opening the door for cross-country and singles tennis. LiveU Solo’s Sony cameras were mounted on stationary tripods at Southampton Recreation Association’s (SRA) tennis courts and the Titans’ first home contest of fall 2020 was streamed live to the crowds at home on October 2. That match had 223 views.
As the excitement for enhanced streaming heightens, developing and learning new paths of technology has not been without its challenges. Working within YouTube’s parameters without 1,000 subscribers, had its challenges. Streaming live games with the first Wirecast program, while also trying to sync the time, scores, timeouts, and sounds, definitely had its challenges. Even hours before our first varsity tennis match this fall, van de Kamp had to find a way to install cable and internet at SRA’s tennis courts before any camera could be connected. Both van de Kamp and Lonon worked minutes up until the first racquets were spun before they successfully streamed the Titans first match.

Since that first match, Trinity has been able to stream every home varsity fall contest and as well as several JV contests, with over 2,700 views for our Titan Nation at home.
During a time when students, faculty, and parents are still learning virtually — and van de Kamp’s daily tech support inbox is larger than the number of Trinity Athletics RVA YouTube subscribers — Trinity and the entire technology department have continued to help build the foundations of a smooth streaming operation. “We know we are not where we want to be yet,” says Prillaman, “but every day we inch forward more.” She’s hopeful that a dedicated student-run sports information committee could abate past and current challenges.

Ultimately, in order to create opportunities for the entire student body, Prillaman would like to provide avenues for Trinity students who have an interest in sports broadcasting and video production. “It’s always been a goal of our program to give any student the opportunity to be involved with athletics, even if they are not on a team” she says. “This could be it.” Trinity looks forward to building a student-run operation, one that runs the production of livestreaming athletic contests from start to finish. A channel for those times when voluntarily cheering at home is a necessity, and eventually for those nights when the sideline cheers are louder than ever once more.

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