BY CORIE LYNN
PHOTOS BY CORIE LYNN AND NATHAN UNRUH
In the face of pandemic, high school sports go on.
For two Friday night basketball games, cardboard cutouts of teachers, family and pets filled the Quinter High School gymnasium bleachers.
One way or another, the girls’ and boys’ basketball teams would play for fans, but these weren’t the only audience members.
With the help of a student sports crew from Fort Hays State University’s Tiger Media Network, dedicated parents and fans could watch the basketball games against Victoria online.
This is part of a broadcasting partnership between Quinter High School and TMN, which includes streaming the school’s basketball games and a Christmas concert.
“We were looking for a better way to service our patrons who were trying to watch the games,” said QHS Principal Toby Countryman.
Originally, the high school purchased an iPad to stream events, but the poor quality of the video made it difficult for online audiences to watch.
“If we could get a better broadcast,” Countryman said, “open up some opportunities for our students as well, [it] just seemed like a good partnership for us.”
Armed with cameras, headsets and pre-created graphics, the FHSU sports crew — experienced through years of college coverage — now travels to Quinter to bring high school events directly to the home.
According to TMN Director Nick Schwien, QHS administration had begun talks of the partnership even before the Kansas State High School Activities Association enacted its no-attendance rule in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. School officials met via Zoom with Schwien, Russell Heitmann — TMN’s news and sports director — and technician Nathan Unruh.
Now, the agreement allows the sports crew to stream QHS winter events live on the Bulldogs’ YouTube page.
“They pay us for our services,” Schwien said. “They also sell some sponsorships to help offset that. So it’s kind of a win-win for us and them, and provides out students with more industry experience.”
Though happy to help meet QHS’s broadcasting needs, Schwien said he is excited for the opportunities the work provides to students.
“We’re really excited because it gives them a real-world working environment and more opportunities to build up their portfolios,” he said.
He said these work opportunities also benefit Quinter students, who have produced the sponsorship commercials for the games.
Players can rewatch coverage of the game, but other QHS students are able to shadow the sports production team as they work. Schwien hopes this will continue to build the TMN program and get more high school students excited about attending FHSU in the future.
Likewise excited by the potential for Quinter students to work on their own broadcasting production, Countryman looks forward to seeing the partnership progress.
“We’re hoping to get more students interested in following [the TMN crew] around, and it serves as a recruiting tool for [FHSU],” he said.
The benefits of the partnership, however, extend beyond recruitment or passion for broadcasting.
Countryman sees the practical skills gained through this real-world work experience as skills applicable to other areas of students’ lives.
“If you look at … state standards for classes that we offer, there’s a lot of them that talk about listening skills, speaking skills, writing skills,” Countryman said. “I think all of that gets incorporated in this type of broadcasting.”
He said the QHS community, hoping to grow the partnership with TMN, is already looking forward to next year. Such a broadcast allows them to adjust to not playing for the fans who typically attend the games.
“You know, not having fans here, that hurts,” Countryman said. “I mean, people will take that personally. So to be able to offer a good, quality broadcast will help ease the sting a little.”
Doing her part to ease that sting, TMN’s Katy Walters works as a camera operator on the crew, tracking the ball and the action from her courtside tripod.
Walters herself is not studying Informatics at FHSU, but true to Countryman’s statement about applicable skills, she knows the experience is nonetheless valuable.
She said she has learned mostly from on-the-spot decision making and problem-solving. Because of this, she has to rely on her headset to communicate with the crew and to work through any difficulties that arise.
“Definitely teamwork and communication are the two huge skills I’ve benefited from, that I’ve gotten from this, that I can help use in my career,” Walters said.
As a videographer, her role on the sports crew also bolsters her creativity as she searches for new angles and shots.
For Walters, though, the importance of the partnership with QHS extends beyond building her own skills to providing a quality production, from multiple mobile cameras to commentary, for the high school students and their families.
“I think it’s fun to show what we can do for our community because Fort Hays, yeah, we’re based in Hays, but to branch out and go to other towns,” she said, “I think that’s really cool.”
Friday’s games marked the beginning of the partnership between QHS and TMN, and both sides believe the night was an excellent start. The first production had more than 1,300 views as of Monday morning on Quinter’s YouTube page, and it featured a live on-screen scoreboard and multiple cameras. TMN is planning to incorporate instant replay into future productions as well.
Students and fans can now look forward to a winter of high-school basketball, thanks to the teamwork between the high school and sports crew.
“We’re just excited about the opportunity and the partnership,” Schwien said. “So far, after the first game, it looks like it’s working great for both sides.”