There aren’t any spectators allowed to attend prep sporting events in Carroll this winter, but there’s a new viewing option that is shining some light on the county’s high school athletics scene.
A partnership between Carroll and the National Federation of State High School Associations began on paper long before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, supervisor of athletics Michael Duffy said. Yet, the timing can’t be overlooked. Amid the pandemic, with Carroll being the only county in the state hosting high school sports, family and friends can catch a glimpse of their favorite athletes in action through NFHS Network.
The Board of Education heard a pitch last January about the possibility of Carroll working with NFHS and approved the idea over the summer. All seven high school gymnasiums in the county are equipped with state-of-the-art cameras that livestream games online.
Duffy stood in Winters Mill High School’s gym on Jan. 5, the first night of Carroll’s winter sports season, awaiting the start of varsity wrestling between South Carroll and the host Falcons. Winters Mill athletic director Jen Gosselin joined Duffy in praising NFHS Network and its amenities that can provide community members a high-quality high school sports fix.
The cameras are affixed to the side wall inside each gym, near midcourt. Software and algorithms used by NFHS Network allow the camera to follow the action, while another angle gives viewers a shot of the score and game clock.
Games are streamed on nfhsnetwork.com, and the site allows viewers to pick favorite teams and follow their schedules throughout the season. The Pixellot cameras can zoom and pan to give viewers a full scope of what’s going on inside the gym. Also, every event streams to school-specific pages on the NFHS Network site.
“This is long before COVID, but obviously it’s much more beneficial under COVID because … it’s easier to deal with the lack of spectators,” Duffy said. “When we say, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, we can’t offer for anyone to be in,’ which for safety reasons makes a lot of sense, we do have an alternative.”
Athletes and coaches can use the livestreaming service as an alternative to scouting and game film, Gosselin said, and the games can be uploaded as recruiting tools.
There have been a few troubleshooting issues with technology since the beginning of the winter season, but overall the NFHS Network seems to be a hit across Carroll.
“I think it is a great system for parents to watch the games,” Century girls basketball coach Danielle Fieni wrote in an email. “This is such a tough year not having parents at games, but with the NFHS system they are able to watch their children play live. It is great for family who live out of town to watch their family members play sports as well.”
South Carroll boys basketball coach Jim Carnes wrote via email he likes the quality of the livestream and added that it’s “nice to know that you don’t have to haul the camera and tripod to away games and sometimes having to scramble to find someone to record the game.”
Ryan Kimble, boys basketball coach at Francis Scott Key, said he’s glad people from outside this area are getting a chance for the first time to see games and follow the local teams. And Kimble said the recruiting side of it is also a bonus.
“A lot of [Division III] schools will be watching games; there are kids that might get an opportunity to play at the next level that never would have,” Kimble wrote in an email.
There’s a subscription fee to join the network, which spans the country. A monthly pass is $9.99, while a yearly subscription is $69.99. Those fees are what pays for the cameras, Duffy said, which cost around $2,500 each.
Duffy said each high school’s stadium is also being fitted for cameras, meaning a lot of fall and spring sports will be livestreamed as well.
“It’s something new, but it’s a good thing, and the timing couldn’t have been better for us,” Gosselin said. “Parents are so excited. ... A lot of them have already paid their subscriptions and they’re already checking schedules. And they’re ready to watch.”
Gosselin said her coaches have given her positive feedback so far with their NFHS Network capabilities.
“You can share that more with your extended family,” she said. “It’s helpful for people who don’t have the tools to come and film it themselves. They can see this, livestream it. ... It’s really easy to use and it’s so beneficial.”