I will start with an admission that I prefer basketball.
Having played during high school, I have a different affinity for basketball than I do for other sports. Now that I teach, I also like basketball season because it means the end of the first semester is near and the holidays are right around the corner. Both of those things usually create excitement for their arrival but instead I meet late November and the 3rd week of December with a great amount of trepidation solely because of two words: Holiday Tournaments.
Our situation for basketball season is a little different this year than it has been the past couple of years. This year we are only producing coaching footage for Two schools (Four teams - Boys and Girls at both). The previous couple of years, we contracted with all Three schools in the county. This helps a little with the planning and staffing but really what’s the difference between 100 games and 150 games.
Our technical set up for 80% of those games is very simple. A Canon HFR20 with a 64 gb memory card, a composite output cable from the camera, an elgato composite capture (https://www.elgato.com/en/video-capture) or the startech usb 3.0 hdmi capture (https://www.startech.com/AV/Converters/Video/usb-3-0-video-capture-device-hdmi-dvi-vga~USB3HDCAP) to get the footage from the camera to the computer where we use the NFHS Network’s Producer software. Both of those capture devices work within Producer as native inputs and work great. Producer for basketball is great. There are a couple of scoreboards with score, time, information areas, as well as sponsor ad positions. In addition there are a ton of the expected graphics including tournament brackets, keys to the game, lower 3rds, and more. 5 minutes with Producer and you are good to go with great looking, simple graphics. I like this setup because it is very simple. Add an extension cord, surge protector, a tripod, and a backpack and you are good to go with a good looking broadcast. This simple set up is the only way we are able to do as many games as we do. I meet my crew before they get on the bus to give them the backpack and send them on their way.
The other 20% of our broadcasts are significantly bigger. We produce a game of the week where I give more students the opportunity to get hands on in the field and produce games. These broadcasts start with the hub of Telestream’s Wirecast. Wirecast allows for an unlimited number of inputs including preproduced video content and graphics. We will have at least a high middle camera (Sony PXW-X70 - https://pro.sony.com/bbsc/ssr/micro-xdcam/cat-broadcastcameras/product-PXWX70/ ). This camera is our main camera throughout the broadcast. My instructions for the operator for high mid is to keep the ball in the back 3rd of your shot until the cross halfcourt then just keep all of the players and the basket in the shot. (This camera is also our coaching footage camera). This year, I added a new camera to the high mid position. We are using a Marshall cv150 (http://www.lcdracks.com/servers-cameras/HD-SDI-cameras/CV150-MB-micro-POV-Camera.php) at our mid court position. For a camera that is the size of my thumb, it packs a heck of a punch. The view angle on the camera from midcourt covers the entire court and has honestly the best look of all of our cameras. I thought the fisheye look would be distracting but it actually compliments the other cameras well when used properly.
This year, we added the NewBlue FX Titler Live to our broadcasts. Titler Live works great with Wirecast including being controlled remotely from the switcher if you are using the Titler Live Broadcast with NDI out. This addition added a huge level of professionalism to our look because we can now implement animated graphics throughout our broadcast. We are just getting started with Titler Live but I anticipate learning how to really make this software increase the quality of our broadcasts. (READ MY REVIEW OF TITLER LIVE HERE)
If we have enough students to do an additional camera, I sent one to the baseline of the team that looks to be the most active in the paint. This angle helps a ton with the action in the paint. The key to this angle is the camera operator has to be able to hold a camera steady for the better part of an hour and a half. The shots should follow the ball - usually from outside the 3 point area into the player in the paint. From there, the op should follow the ball through the net or the defensive rebound. I tell the TD that once the action goes the other way, switch back to the high mid camera on the 5th dribble.
The final element of our game of the week broadcasts is play by play. I have been blessed the last several years to have a group of men that volunteer their time to perform play by play and color for a lot of our broadcasts. They have also worked with my students to help them cut their teeth on the mic. Student play by play can be the most rewarding event with the most pain you ever feel. Students either act like they are Charles Osgood reading War and Peace or Busta Rhymes on a freestyle. Finding that balance for the student is essential. I am usually on a headset coaching them through their first couple of games. (If you use a mackie, this is really easy, mute your mic and you are in the ALT 3-4 output and can talk “offline” to anyone else on headset. I don’t have conversations with them during action but instead just drop suggestions like “Time,” “Name not number,” “why was that important.”.... When the broadcast is over, especially their first, I make sure to make a big deal about them finishing their game. A lot of students say they want to be play by play or color analysts but getting them to step up to the mic and actually do it is a big deal.
The time that I get to break in the most students to the live production world is during our Thanksgiving break. One of our schools hosts a Thanksgiving tournament. This means 14 games in 3 days. This is quite the hassle especially considering that the team that hosts the tournament is only 1 of 4 we support. The last several years, I have not been able to enjoy the Thanksgiving break because of the stress of making sure the right people are in the right place at the right time with the right equipment.
This year though, in my contract with the teams I placed a caveat that saved me a lot of stress and guilt. Our contract reads that holiday tournaments will be subject to review for location and staffing. Last year, we served 6 teams and all 4 of the 6 teams went to the opposite corners of the state. The two that played in the same tournament did the worst thing imaginable. One team lost in the first round and the other won. This mean that one team played early in the morning and the other later that night. This meant that I either had to have a crew lose an entire day to work the games or I had to have two crews for that team that day. I make every effort to get the games covered but if I can’t I no longer have the guilty feeling that comes from being a Type A personality with a perfectionist complex.
As for the tournament at the school we support, I use this as a recruitment opportunity to encourage my students to stay in the program for another year. I invite my first year students to help us with the production of the games as well as work with our Sports Broadcast Institute students. My goal is to eventually create a seamless transition from year to year in terms of live production knowledge. I also offer a great amount of extra credit* for those that are willing to give 2 and half hours of their break.
In addition to extra credit and pats on the back, during this time of year, I make certain my students know how much I appreciate them. The holiday season for most of our students is extremely stressful for scholastic and personal reasons. Our semester ends the 3rd week of December so the students have final exams, standardized tests, etc to deal with along with whatever situation they have to deal with while they are out of school for Three weeks. Many of our students come from home situations that we can’t imagine so it is imperative the students understand how much you care about them. For my crews that film for me, I make sure that during the last week or so, I buy the “good pizza” to feed them during the shows. For my classroom students, I have one on one conversations with them about their grade and their performance. Some of the conversations are very cool and calm, some are adversarial, and others are truly tough. We all have students that are underperforming and they may need a kick in the pants to get them into shape. The key to all of these conversations is to make sure the student understands that you are not teaching for the fame and fortune but instead because you care about them and want the best for them.
As we head into the holiday season, make sure all of those you value in life know their value including your students, admin, custodians, and most importantly your family (since they have to hear you complain all year). I look forward to Christmas in a couple of weeks including sending students all four corners of the state for Christmas Classics….
*I am 100% opposed to giving students alternate work to what we do in the classroom. I use extra credit as a tool to leverage student participation as well as a defensive tool when parents inquire “how can we get to a B or an A?” If you have offered extra credit throughout the school year and the student has not taken those opportunities, you have done all you can to give that student the opportunity to bring their grade up. I have had students fail by 1 point and when asked by the parent and administration why I didn’t “give them” the one points, I point to the number of times that I gave my time up for them to improve their grade - Conversation over.
Tom White is a video production teacher at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers. GA. Tom is also the director of the Sports Broadcast Institute, which is One of Five Georgia Governor’s Innovation in Education award winning programs and the NFHS Network Best Overall Program. The Sports Broadcast Institute works to produce live broadcasts, newscasts, sports documentaries and more for the Three schools, Rockdale Co, Salem, and Heritage High schools, that the career academy serves. Prior to teaching, Tom was a marketing, promotions, and online content director for a major radio corporation in Atlanta. Tom studied exercise science at High Point University prior to his radio career. Despite his winding career path, his mother still thinks he is special.