- September 10, 2021
A low rattle echoed out of the Braden River High football stadium PA system.
Christopher Yates just sighed.
"Oh great," Yates said. "I love a grounding hum."
Yates, a career and technical education teacher at the school, would eventually eliminate the hum and get the PA system working right but not without getting exasperated at all the things he had to do in a short amount of time. Yates oversees all the Braden River sound and video for the school's athletic events. That means the PA system, but it also means the sound for the school's marching band and the thing that perhaps takes the most effort: streaming Braden River's athletic contests online for the Pirate Nation Sports Network.
The school has been streaming games online for approximately seven years; games from as far back as 2016 remain on the network's YouTube page. The aim was to reach alumni or family members who could not attend the games in person. For the first three years, Yates said, it was a small operation. He used a small TriCaster — essentially a box-shaped, high-powered video editor — and a monitor, and all the equipment was housed in the press box. Four years ago, Yates realized this was unsustainable if he was going to continue doing the broadcasts.
Yates convinced the school to invest in a broadcast trailer, where all the equipment is now housed. The trailer runs power down from the press box via cables. The trailer, in addition to giving the team more space, also allows easy travel to away football games.
Inside the trailer is still a TriCaster, but it is connected to three monitors for easier viewing. Next to those monitors is another station to control the broadcast's lower thirds — essentially, the graphics shown on the screen. The broadcast uses software that connects it to the stadium's scoreboard, so the game's score updates automatically on the screen. There's also an intro video and announcing from school alumnus Harry Lovisa and sophomore Mason Smithers, who plays on the junior varsity football team.
Friday nights are never easy for Yates — there's a lot of running back and forth between the press box and the trailer, making sure all the wires were connected and everything was working, as well as adjusting the PA system — but on Sept. 23, Yates was particularly exhausted. Yates said he normally assigns each part of the broadcast to a student — he takes volunteers interested in the broadcast field —while Yates does the set-up and tear down. On this night, not many helpers arrived, so Yates was forced to do more, like operate the broadcast's two cameras. It was destined to be a weird night: when Yates arrived to the stadium earlier in the day, he discovered that half the scoreboard was not working; it had been struck by lighting. But generally, Yates does all this to give interested students real-life, on-the-fly experience.
"I tell all the kids, 'I don't care if you screw up,'" Yates said. "I want them to try. It's about them learning. I'm here for questions and technical issues, but it's a student-run broadcast."
Jackson Hodge, a Braden River sophomore, is in his second year as the team's director, meaning Hodge is manning the controls at the TriCaster. Hodge makes the decision of when to cut between cameras, among other duties. Hodge is interested in working in broadcasting behind the scenes in the future, something stoked in him when working for R. Dan Nolan Middle's broadcast news report as an eighth grader, making sure the audio sounded crisp. Getting thrown into the Pirate Nation Sports Network fire has been invaluable for Hodge's learning.
"It's so fun working on the TriCaster and the graphics and working with the team," Hodge said. "I typically use a close-up shot when a play is happening, and I use a wide-angle shot for when there is a timeout or other things happening."
Smithers joined the broadcast booth for the first time on Sept. 9, when Braden River hit the road to play Lakewood Ranch. Lovisa was out of town and Yates needed someone to act as a replacement. He did so well — and had so much fun describing the game's action, using his own football knowledge to inform the audience of things like defensive coverages or blocks by an offensive lineman people might have otherwise missed — that Yates decided to keep him there alongside Lovisa.
"I didn't have a roster, and it was raining," Smithers said of his first game. "I tried to use the roster on MaxPreps, but that wasn't always right. But I still enjoyed it, so I thought, why not keep doing it? He (Lovisa) gives the who and the what and I give the why."
Lovisa said Smithers has a lot of enthusiasm for the job. It's nice to have someone to talk with in the booth instead of monologuing to a silent audience, he said.
"I listened back to last week's game (a loss against Manatee High) and I thought it went great," Lovisa said. "Yeah, we got a little emotional at the end, but Manatee-Braden River will do that to you."
The Sept. 23 game against Booker High was the pair's second game together. They're still working out the kinks but feel like their dynamic works well. Lovisa said Smithers is the Tony Romo to his Jim Nance, referencing the popular CBS NFL announcing pair.
All the work that goes into each broadcast pays off. Pirate Nation Sports Network routinely gets upwards of 1,800 views on its football streams. Braden River's overtime win against Palmetto High on Sept. 2 had approximately 3,800 views. The network does more than football: last year, it also covered select baseball and boys and girls basketball games, plus the school's National Honor Society induction ceremony. The network does not monetize its videos, and Yates is paid just enough to run everything to cover technical costs and gas for away games. The whole enterprise is a labor of love, one that Yates is happy to provide for the sake of his students.
But that doesn't mean he isn't exhausted at the end of each night. Lovisa brings Yates two Cokes for each game, which he downs at halftime as necessary fuel to keep him going.
"I could be sitting at home on my couch with a beverage," Yates said. "But what good would that do me? I'm here for the educational purposes of the kids. It's enjoyable."