by M. Anthony Davis
High school football is back. Last weekend marked the beginning of the Metro League football season, and the opening weekend featured an inner-city rivalry with Rainier Beach playing Garfield. Typically, the stands would be packed for this matchup but, due to COVID-19 restrictions, no fans were allowed to attend.
Meeting with the high school broadcast team at Rainier Avenue Radio, I learned that not only were fans not allowed, but neither were cheerleaders or anyone else who was not a coach, player, referee, or media.
“There were times you could hear a pin drop,” Rick Dupree, play-by-play announcer and sports director for Rainier Avenue Radio said as he described opening night. “But it was cool. You could feel the excitement the kids had, which is really cool. They’re on the sideline and pumping each other up, and they’re chanting ‘defense’. They became their own cheer squad and that was cool to see.”
Rainier Avenue Radio’s broadcast team includes Dupree, along with fellow commentator and former Seattle Seahawk Edwin Bailey. Producer Daniel Belles is behind the scenes making things work, along with Taylor-Corrine Benton, who produces and coordinates student interns.
Rainier Avenue Radio has broadcasted high school sports for three years, but this season is special due to COVID restrictions. With fans not being allowed to attend in person, the number of people tuning in to the live broadcast has grown exponentially.
In past years, the comment section of the livestream was primarily used by fans with a deep knowledge of the game. There would be a few posts from fans sharing their perspective on the Xs and Os. This year, with all fans forced to view the games remotely, the comment section became a lot more lively.
“It was an experience,” Belles said. “The fans were passionate. There was some smack talk, and we had to monitor that. But there was a lot of passion for the game and every time there was a big play, 20 comments would come in. It was fun throwing all the comments on the screen.”
The Rainier Avenue Radio crew will be broadcasting live at select Metro League games all season. One of their goals this year is to provide a more robust fan experience. Opening weekend was the first time the crew used multiple cameras to provide additional angles of action for viewers, and they are also working to make the livestream experience more interactive.
The crew explains that in upcoming weeks, fans will be able to use Zoom to be placed on screen where they can cheer for their team and vocalize some of their comments. With all fans being in virtual attendance, it is important that fans still get to feel a sense of community and have the opportunity to cheer for the athletes.
Reflecting on week one and looking forward to the rest of the COVID football season, the crew is optimistic about the remaining games. While it is a different environment having high school football without cheerleaders, student sections, and parents to cheer from the stands, the football itself hasn’t missed a beat.
“I thought the football was outstanding,” Bailey explained. “There was not a whole lot of turnovers and not a whole lot of mental mistakes. Everything went smooth. Those kids really stepped up and gave a good quality of football. I also take my hat off to the coaches of each one of those teams. You know, they did exactly what it took for the kids to show up and show out.”
For the rest of the season you can catch the fluid chemistry, and a healthy supply of jokes from the ‘70s, from Dupree and Bailey on the play-by-play. For students who are interested in learning about broadcasting, Benton is always looking for new student interns who want to learn the business.
You can find links to all Metro League football live streams here.
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.
Featured Image: Rainier Beach High School football practice. Photo by Susan Fried.
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