With the future unclear for in-person attendance at high school sports, the Solon Springs School District has found a new way to keep fans and families engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A series of Pixellot cameras allow the high school to broadcast matches for various sports teams, including basketball and volleyball.
Solon Springs athletic director Nathan Ahlberg said each Pixellot unit consists of three cameras. The system provides a high quality, automated system, with individual manual operating cameras.
“The two that record the game are fixed in position with each filming one half of the court. The Pixellot software will 'stitch' the views from both cameras together seamlessly and follow the ball as it moves up and down the court … Viewers can see the game clock, period, and score of both teams," he said.
According to Ahlberg, the most that will typically be required to operate the system is plugging in the date and time of each game into the control console website.
Solon Springs officials purchased two Pixellot camera systems for their gyms after Ahlberg spoke with a representative from Pixellot in early June.
“This process started last spring as the pandemic continued and it looked as if fall and winter sports were also going to be altered, along with cancellations we faced in the spring season,” Ahlberg explained.
The price of the project has proven a key factor for Solon Springs. The project would have cost the district a total of $7,000, Ahlberg said, with $5,000 of that going toward the cameras and $2,000 to cover their installation.
“However, the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) and WIAA announced in early July that schools could receive two units for free. The NFHS kindly cut $3,000 off our total because this announcement came only 10 days after we signed our agreement," he said.
Solon Springs will cover the remaining cost money raised through the annual Mertz Rookey Solon Springs Eagles Golf Scramble, Ahlberg said.
All games broadcast by Solon Springs are livestreamed on the NFHS Network. A subscription is required to watch games. People can subscribe at nfhsnetwork.com. A monthly pass is $10.99, and an annual pass is $69.99. The subscription allows users to see any game nationwide on the NFHS network live or on-demand.
Fellow Indianhead Conference schools Hurley, Washburn and South Shore are part of the network, Ahlberg said.
Solon Springs resident Heidi Sellwood has used the new NFHS service to help keep up with local sports. Two of Sellwood's three children are still in high school and play basketball. While her boys haven't had any games yet, Sellwood said she and her husband, Scott, have made a habit of watching girls games via livestream.
“We try to catch all of the Solon Springs girls high school games. We’ve watched as many of those as we can. We either watch those on NFHS, or if they play someone like Drummond, (they) stream over their Facebook page and we just drop that on the TV.”
Sellwood said the biggest issue she’s faced watching games has been a poor internet connection, though she also noted that NFHS streams have had fewer problems.
The Sellwoods didn't have any issues setting up the NFHS system, she said, and they have been able to get family members connected, as well.
“Setting up the livestreams has been very smooth. My husband’s parents live in Bennett, and my husband got them set up for NFHS for when our boys start playing. There was a girls game playing, so we could show them how to do it.”
Sellwood said she's happy to have streamed matches and hopes the option will remain available for the foreseeable future.
“I hope they do keep (streaming games), whether it’s NFHS or they do their own YouTube or Facebook, they absolutely should keep it.”
Solon Springs has already seen positive numbers from the volleyball and basketball matches that have been streamed so far, Ahlberg said.
“We averaged 40 live views and 10 on-demand views during the volleyball season and had 179 live and 38 on-demand views of our first girls' basketball game of the season," he said.