Canton High senior Meg LaBelle experienced heartbreak last Monday when a family member tested positive for COVID-19 and she was forced to quarantine, missing out on the final two games of her field hockey career.
While she couldn’t participate, or even watch her teammates compete in the Hockomock League’s postseason tournament, LaBelle was able to catch high quality broadcasts of their Hockomock Cup games via Canton Community Television, a local network that has partnered with the Canton High for more than three decades.
Many schools throughout the Hockomock and Patriot League have partnered with local cable channels for several years, and those relationships are coming up clutch with fan access restricted during the pandemic.
These live broadcasts or online streams are not just keeping fans in the game, they’re keeping student-athletes motivated and engaged.
“Usually we’re used to seeing the Dog Pound [student section] load the stands for all sports,” said LaBelle, who also plays ice hockey.
“Having a live stream allows you to connect with the student community. Although we can’t see the fans, you know there are people outside the arena watching you, which makes athletes play better.”
At Canton, that partnership has gone a step beyond, with Ed McDonough, a visual arts teacher and cable access coordinator, organizing student-run productions since 2001.
McDonough’s program is unique to Massachusetts in that nearly 80 percent of the production, broadcasting, and technical support is handled by students.
Before the pandemic, crews of 10 students would run three-camera shoots of Canton’s Game of the Week, followed by a debriefing session to go over the challenges and successes of their production.
This fall, camera crews have limited numbers and schools aren’t allowed to travel to games, so Easton Community Access Television executive director Jason Daniels organized an informal Hockomock TV Group, sharing coverage and knowledge among the towns in the league. Canton, Franklin, Milford, and Foxboro, the schools that have longstanding relationships with cable access programs, led the charge.
“Since each town could only cover home games and parents couldn’t travel it was clear that something needed to happen,” said Daniels. “We set up the first meeting and everyone was on board immediately.”
Jim Jones of Double ACS, Attleboro, set up a Microsoft Sharepoint and the Hockomock League schools began sharing live streaming links. While Canton’s boosters are paying alumni Kevin Praik and Saeed Vossoughi to provide coverage, parents in Easton have stepped up to call games themselves.
“Sophisticated town sports coverage is part of these communities' expectations now,” said Canton Community TV general manager Tanya Willow.
“It’s a cultural priority and it’s wonderful for the kids and their parents. Our relationship with the school has been building for 35 years and Ed McDonough has brought it all to a new level.”
Canton’s Visual Arts program has produced media members such as Jack McNamara (ESPN), Dan Sheehy (Global Mail), Angelina Salcedo (CBS), Lauren Cortizo (Netflix), and Kevin Ward (CBS).
Recently LaBelle’s older brother, Pat, produced an inspiring video on Canton basketball player Xavier Machuga, who is recovering from a brain aneurysm. The video, “Soldier X,” was featured on Fox 25 News and Pat is now a communications major at UMass Amherst.
Meg is following that tradition by producing a senior highlight film for multiple sports as part of an independent study. This past spring, she won Canton’s Hand Washing PSA Contest with a song and video to raise awareness on how hand hygiene can prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“COVID is making us figure out all sorts of things,” said McDonough.
“Everyone is learning the value of video. We’re one of the lucky [schools] in the sense we had an infrastructure in place. Other schools might have a video class, but not the partnership with cable companies, and their budgets are strained.”
In the Patriot League, Duxbury is struggling to broadcast high school events.
Duxbury athletic director Thom Holdgate and other league ADs have tried to use National Federation High School Association cameras, or stream games on Twitter Live and Facebook Live, but internet connection is spotty for outdoor contests.
Holdgate said some schools are upgrading their WiFi connection and some use the HUDL Focus camera that automatically records practices and games for an annual fee of over $10,000.
“As odd as it is to say from Duxbury, that’s way beyond our resources,” Holdgate said.
“We’re trying something new almost every week. It’s been very sporadic with regards to what we’re able to do outside, but we want to provide something, because tweeting updates just isn’t the same as viewing games live.”
Meanwhile, Marshfield and Hanover are capitalizing on their partnerships with local cable companies.
Marshfield Community TV executive director Jonathan Grabowski said his station has nearly doubled its coverage of high school events to 25 this fall. With the studio at the high school, Grabowski has coordinated with Marshfield AD Bill Battis on coverage plans for the winter.
Hanover Community TV is also entrenched at the high school and run by girls' volleyball coach Colleen Smith. With Smith coaching, the station’s only other full-time employee, Scott Lebbossiere, has been covering as many games as possible, and Smith is farming out camera work to student managers when Hanover’s teams hit the road.
“We started as only one employee, with no studio, and no office space. We literally just had a closet,” said Smith, now in her 10th year as HCTV manager.
“Fortunately we’ve built a small studio and are able to expand every year. This year projects have been delayed, but there’s more demand from a community that wants to stay involved in extracurriculars even though they can’t be here in person.”
With funding from Hanover Cable Access, Smith is hoping to add live cameras to the baseball field, football field, and the school’s auditorium. Everything is handled internally through their own servers, and HCTV has broadcast every competition featuring Hanover in the Patriot Cup, even without its usual small stable of student interns.
“Anything school-related always has higher ratings,” said Smith. “With sporting events, friends and grandparents are tuning in across the country. It’s had its challenges [this fall], but it’s nothing we can’t handle.”
High schools are depending on local cable stations in an increasingly virtual world.
Peabody TV helped Peabody High live stream graduation this past spring, and helps the district communicate changes in protocols and schedules.
In the private school realm, St. John’s Prep has been streaming athletic events through a private company, Streamography, since 2013, and is able to pay for the HUDL Focus service that videotapes and tracks data during practices and games.
But few schools offer the quality of coverage provided by Canton TV, or the hands-on experience it provides its students. As schools innovate and adapt to the challenges of a socially distanced world, McDonough hopes that more programs can capitalize by expanding their use of video.
“Something schools are doing more now is giving kids voice and choice rather than cookie cutter [career] paths,” said McDonough.
“We want to find out what kids are passionate about and add fuel to their fire so they’re able to shine.”
▪ MIAA committees met last week to recommend modifications based on the EEA guidelines for youth and interscholastic sports. Those modifications will be reviewed by the Sports Medicine Committee and COVID-19 Task Force this week . . . On Friday, the MIAA Board of Directors is expected to vote on the recommendations of those committees and then individual leagues will meet to finalize their scheduling plans.
▪ The Patriot League will not start winter sports activities until Dec. 10, joining the Bay State Conference and other leagues in delaying past the eligible start time of Nov. 30.
▪ BC High athletic director Jon Bartlett and several student-athletes organized a “Lotion For Devotion Drive,” collecting 184 bottles of hand lotion to deliver to exhausted nurses at Massachusetts General Hospital. Bartlett was joined on the delivery by assistant AD Tom Conley and cross-country senior captain Joe Chase, whose mother, Susan, works at MGH.
▪ Hanover will host an NFL-style combine for Patriot League schools on Saturday from 2-6 p.m. In partnership with Hardkore Athletic Performance, of Rockland, the combine will provide a showcase for seniors who would otherwise be preparing for traditional Thanksgiving football games. Approximately 20 student-athletes from each school in the league will participate.
▪ St. Mary’s named Spartans girls' hockey coach Frank Pagliuca at its softball coach. He previously guided Lexington to back-to-back Division 1 titles . . . Westwood hired 2009 graduate Lauren Hillberg as its girls' hockey coach . . . Newton North/South hired North alum Rani Jacobson as coach of the boys' gymnastics co-op team.
▪ The Greater Boston League voted, 6-0, to allow Lynn English and Lynn Classical to join the league starting next fall. English and Classical are petitioning to leave the Northeastern Conference.