Microphones were set up and a camera focused on the live action on the basketball court. The play-by-play announcer excitedly described the scene with the help of a color commentator by his side, feeding him statistics. Meanwhile, a sideline reporter was combing through the bleachers, searching for an interview.
Nothing too unusual — except for one thing. This wasn’t ESPN, Fox Sports or any other television network or station, for that matter. No, this was GPO TV, Greenport High School’s student-run broadcasting service, conducting a livestream broadcast of a boys basketball team game on the internet.
Alumni, players’ relatives and anyone else can now watch live broadcasts of the Porters’ home games on computer screens, tablets or smart phones thanks to GPO TV. Including its inaugural broadcast of a Dec. 13 Stony Brook-Greenport game, GPO TV has livestreamed five boys games so far and one girls game, between Bishop McGann-Mercy and Southold/Greenport, last Wednesday.
The broadcasts have been judged a success by school officials and those involved in production.
“Oh, it’s incredible, far beyond our expectations,” said Ryan Case, director of educational technology at Greenport High School.
David Gamberg, the Greenport and Southold school superintendent, said: “It took off, unbelievably so. We’ve gotten feedback from all over the states, all over the United States and even overseas from England.”
Kevin Webster, a sports enthusiast (and chairman of the Southold Town Board of Assessors), had spoken with Mr. Gamberg on multiple occasions over the years about the possibility of broadcasting games.
Mr. Gamberg recalled: “I said: ‘I think the technology is very doable. We could do a live broadcast.’ And we finally put all the pieces together this year and we did a trial run of it and it worked.”
Every game that’s broadcast needs a play-by-play announcer. In stepped Mr. Webster, an East Marion resident who had done work on the radio station at Ithaca College before working for several years as an on-air personality for WBAZ in Southold.
“He’s got a great radio voice,” said Mr. Gamberg.
Mr. Webster, who had been out of broadcasting for some 20 years, said he’s having a ball calling the games.
“I’m a huge sports fan,” he said. “I love just watching the players go up and down the court, being able to describe the action
and feel the excitement of the crowd in my headphones.”
Aside from Mr. Webster and Mr. Case, who watches the livestreams during games from a nearby coach’s office in order to make sure the picture and audio are right, all the others involved in putting together the broadcast are students.
Junior Tommy Tsaveras serves as the color commentator and tracks statistics. His previous broadcasting experience was nil.
“It was just an opportunity that came up and I took it and it’s been working out really well,” said Tommy who, like Mr. Webster, wears a purple Greenport athletics polo shirt while broadcasting. “It’s really exciting. I love doing it. I look forward every time we have a game.”
One of the most interesting jobs belongs to senior Ella Watts, the sideline reporter who roams the gym in search of interviews.
Ella, who also anchors GPO TV’s weekly newsmagazine program, said she was asked if she was interested in doing some sideline reporting. “I only had one game that I was going to do and then it turned into a bigger thing,” she said. “It has become a lot bigger than we expected it to be.”
Ella, who is also involved in theater, said she was nervous during that first game. “I had never done anything like this,” she said. “I was really nervous because people were going to be listening to my voice and I didn’t want to mess up. I didn’t even know who I was interviewing, but we kind of just went with the flow and it ended up going really well.”
Clearly, Ella has grown more comfortable and has shown she can ask tough questions to go with the fun ones. During Friday night’s game between Southold and Greenport, for example, she put Mr. Gamberg on the spot. She asked him, “So, being the superintendent of both Greenport High School and Southold High School, who are you rooting for?”
Mr. Gamberg, wearing a purple and red tie (a mix of both school colors), answered: “Can I plead the fifth or no comment? Actually, the truth is I win, either way.”
Others are involved in the broadcast, too, like cameramen Jake Mazzaferro and John Wright and technical coordinators Blayr Corazzini, Shannon Colfer and Kai Kaufman.
To recruit students for the broadcasts, a student broadcasting club was created.
As Greenport sees it, the broadcasts are a win-win, bringing players greater exposure, giving fans an opportunity to watch games they cannot attend and training students in the broadcasting field.
Thanks to the broadcasts, viewers from afar can see Ahkee Anderson making a flashy reverse layup, Jaxan Swann sticking three-point shots and Tyrus Smiley delivering no-look, behind-the-back passes.
It doesn’t hurt the broadcasts that the Porters have a strong team this season. They are currently ranked fifth in the state among Class C teams by the New York State Sportswriters Association, with an 11-2 record, 5-0 in Suffolk County League VIII as of Monday.
These broadcasts, posted and archived on the Vimeo livestreaming platform (vimeo.com), are made possible by technological advances that have made them significantly more affordable.
“Three years ago it would have cost us probably 10 times what it costs now,” Mr. Case said. He added, “The technology just keeps getting better and better and better, and it makes it easier and easier and easier for us.”
Mr. Gamberg said: “The cost factor to do something like this could have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars [years ago], and now it is all inconsequential. For a couple of hundred bucks you get a license from Vimeo to be able to do the broadcast.”
From atop a set of bleachers in the Richard “Dude” Manwaring Gymnasium, one camera covers all the action.
Live broadcasts can be exciting — and scary. The first broadcast had some bumps.
“The first run-through we had, we mistakenly put the wires under the bleachers and during the game, the kids pulled the wire apart, so we went dead,” said Mr. Case.
Welcome to live broadcasting.
“You never know what can happen,” said Mr. Webster.
But with each broadcast, Mr. Case said, the product gets better and better. “We all have big smiles on our faces because it just looks great and sounds great and it’s a lot of fun to do,” he said.
Officials believe Greenport is one of the pioneers among Suffolk high schools in livestreaming games. “We’re, I think, one of, I’m going to say a few, that actually livestream,” said Greenport athletic director Chris Golden.
Could livestreaming high school sporting events become the norm in the near future? Perhaps.
“There’s a tech side, there’s a sports analyst side … there’s a journalism side,” Mr. Gamberg said. “You put the pieces together and the technology is so great to livestream that we know that the audience can grow. We know that this is an opportunity to explain who we are.”
Just how far and wide the broadcasts reach was reflected in viewing statistics the school district released for the Dec. 20 Mattituck-Greenport game. The numbers show 546 “plays” and 131 “finishes” in total, with viewers from 23 states and one from Ottawa, Canada. “Finishes” reflects the number of viewers who watched the entire broadcast to the end. New York had 401 plays and 66 finishes, and within the state Southold led the way with 119 plays and 15 finishes.
What has surprised Ella the most about these livestream broadcasts?
“How many people are watching it, how many people actually watch the entire game,” she said. “Who would have thought that would have happened here?”
Top Caption: Kevin Webster, clockwise from bottom left, with the GPO TV team before a girls basketball game last week. He is joined by Tommy Tsaveras, John Wright, technology director Ryan Case, Shannon Colfer, Blayr Corazzini, Ella Watts and Jake Mazzaferro.