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Fairmont High School preps to live-stream events

STREAMING SYSTEM — A Pixellot camera (top right) and accompanying computer tower (black box) were recently installed in the rafters of the south side of Cardinal Gym at Fairmont High School. The two pieces of technology, along with a smaller Pixellot camera that focuses on the scoreboard (not shown), will allow the high school to live-stream extracurricular activities starting Monday. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

FAIRMONT — With all of the restrictions implemented to follow the Minnesota Department of Health’s COVID-19 protocols concerning high school sports, the Big South Conference athletic directors and administrators needed to find a safe alternative to allow more fans to view those extracurricular activities.

Fairmont athletic director/head football coach Mat Mahoney and the high school district, with the assistance of local access television guru Bruce Abitz, have found a solution in the form of live-streaming.

“With all of Fairmont’s athletes during the winter seasons limited to only two passes per event, we had to find an avenue to enable extended family members, friends and fans to watch the games without being physically present,” said Mahoney. “Multiple schools in the Big South already have the service, so we looked into it and now hopefully, streaming is our new best friend.”

So, who better for Mahoney to ask to help put the fully automated sports production system to use than Abitz, who created Gemini Studios public broadcasting in the mid- to late-1990s in Fairmont.

“Our school district and entire community have really been spoiled having Bruce around, broadcasting countless activities for the past three decades,” said Mahoney.

“Mat approached me about working with the Pixellot sports media company when they agreed to install the two cameras and the computer tower in the main gym at the high school,” said Abitz, who will serve as FHS’ administrator for the streaming site. “Mat and I discussed how to come up with a system that covers all aspects of sporting events and Pixellot seems to be the best fit for what the school needs.”

The main camera — hovering in Cardinal Gym’s south rafters — is programmed to track the action on the hardwood court via a motion sensor, while a smaller stationary camera will display the entire scoreboard in a corner of the streaming screen.

“It’s quite ingenious how the program has algorithms built in to move the camera with the action,” said Abitz. “Since a lot of the streaming sites don’t use audio, it’s nice to be able to see important information like the (running) score, the time, fouls, etc., through the shot of the scoreboard.”

While Abitz will continue to offer streaming through his Gemini Studios Facebook site for free thanks to area sponsorships deferring his costs, the Pixellot company will offer both a monthly and yearly streaming package at a relatively low subscription fee.

“They have a monthly fee of $10.99, and you can get an unlimited amount of games. They also have an annual subscription for $69.99 that covers every event recorded throughout the school year,” said Abitz. “In fact, Pixellot will send you an email notifying you of upcoming games, although I’m not aware of any viewing of archived games as of yet.”

While there will not be any official person monitoring the live-streaming, Abitz plans to “keep an eye on it independently” in case any technical difficulties occur.

“People will eventually be able to get a link for the streaming through the Fairmont High School activities website or through my Gemini Facebook site, but it’s not officially in place today (Tuesday),” said Abitz.

“This week our main purpose has been getting everything installed and working on the calibrations of the equipment to bring the best quality picture to the fans,” said Mahoney.

Mahoney said the live-streaming process is a long-term project for the school district, with only a one-time purchase fee for the cameras.

For now, live-streaming will be put through its paces at FHS’ Cardinal Gym and Mahoney football field since those locations are currently the only two that possess the high-speed internet connection needed to handle the workload of the system.

If you’re fortunate enough to attend Cardinal sporting events in person, Mahoney reminds fans that face masks are required, in addition to following the pandemic protocol of social distancing.

“Using the hand sanitizer stations near the gymnasium entrances also is encouraged,” said Mahoney, “and masks also will be available if you don’t have one.”

There will be no fee for the two players’ event passes, and sports attendees can obtain those from their student-athletes.

“If you leave a contest before it’s over, the school is not allowing you to transfer the pass to another person that night,” said Mahoney. “You may give it to another family member for the next game, however, but once you’re in the stands, we’d like you to stay for the entire event.”

Mahoney said if an opposing school has the Pixellot system in place, a subscription will allow Cardinal fans the rare chance to watch in-person in Fairmont and watch a road game on your cell phone.

“At the end of the day, the school district just wants our kids to have the opportunity to play, and we’re doing everything we can to make that happen,” said Mahoney.

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