ST. GEORGE — Snow Canyon and Dixie have dueled on the basketball court this season. On the boys’ side, the Warriors dealt the eventual Region 9 champion Flyers their first loss of the league calendar on Jan. 20. The Snow Canyon girls also stunned Dixie on its home court with an epic come-from-behind, one-point victory on Feb. 11. More fireworks are likely to come when the girls’ teams rematch at Snow Canyon on Wednesday in the state tournament.
But the drama will be lessened by some empty bleachers. There will be reduced fans, a limited student section and (in theory) at least 6 feet of open space between spectators in Dixie’s stands. Many people who want to be there won’t have the opportunity, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response, the two have ignited another (albeit more passive) rivalry. It doesn’t take place on the court but rather in whatever makeshift press box the teams have come up with from the top row of the stands. It’s an arms race to produce the top amateur sports broadcast in Region 9.
Both schools have taken strides to make the game more available to their teams’ family, friends and fans. While all Region 9 schools have some means of providing fans with access to sporting events in real time, some either charge money or have a poor product that has low resolution, inadequate score updates and a camera removed from the action that makes it hard to follow.
Dixie and Snow Canyon took different approaches, but they accomplished the same thing: providing a high-quality broadcast so family, friends and fans can keep up with their teams and players from afar.
“The major issue is there’s a lot of grandparents and the extended family that wanted to watch the games that didn’t have the ability,” Matt Hamlin, producer of Warrior Nation Network, said. “We’re trying to deliver a pretty good thing for free for people who aren’t able to watch.”
Hamlin, whose son plays on the junior-varsity Snow Canyon squad, coordinated with Snow Canyon boys basketball coach Doug Meacham in the preseason to bring a high-quality broadcast to the team’s games. As someone with a background in technology and owner of a local tech business, Hamlin purchased his own equipment and secured some sponsors to cover the rest. He designed a scoreboard bug to lay over the feed. They created a site so all the not-so-tech-savvy viewers had to do was go there and click the “Watch Live” button in the middle of the screen to take them to the broadcast.
From there, Hamlin admitted that he wasn’t an on-air talent. He had to put someone on the microphone, so he recruited Kenny Kunde, an assistant coach for Meacham, Ryan Rarick, former Snow Canyon girls coach, and Jared Baker, a parent.
The Warrior Nation Network was born, going live on Dec. 17 as the Snow Canyon girls basketball team hosted Payson in a pre-season matchup.
At Dixie, broadcast journalism teacher and girls basketball head coach Ryan Forsey approached it differently. The class was headed toward a more digital-media based curriculum before COVID-19 started, but the pandemic gave the program a reason to focus on broadcasting. Forsey put the broadcasts in the hands of his students.
Dixie High TV is rougher than its Snow Canyon counterpart. The high school students on the broadcast tend to stumble over their words more. Sometimes, Forsey couldn’t get students to sign up to work games, leaving an automated panning, camera and audio from the arena, with no commentary at all. The scorebug is less sophisticated. But it doesn’t have the funding, background and access that Snow Canyon does. For Dixie, providing fans with access to games is still a priority, but a secondary one to education.
“That was the goal, to create a digital media entity for Dixie High that students could write, produce, film, direct, all that fun stuff,” Forsey said. “It’s a little different for us. His is more of a private venture. Ours is more built out of education.”
Dixie High TV is also working on other projects, including a fully student-produced newscast. For soccer in the spring, it’ll have a Spanish broadcast from Hispanic students in the class.
Both Dixie and Snow Canyon broadcasted the majority of games for their teams. While it may have been intended in the case of Snow Canyon to reach locally for friends and family of students, it has simultaneously made the games more accessible for all family members, close or distant.
The radius of Warrior Nation Network’s reach prompted Baker to at one point tongue-in-cheekily say they had a spectator from Zimbabwe. While the broadcast hasn’t left the continent in actuality, it has reached up into Canada and across the United States, giving family members a way to stay involved, even through isolation.
One of those family members is Lara Mijatovich, who lives in California. She said she would normally make the trip to St. George to watch her sister’s children play; but with the pandemic, she hasn’t been able to watch the family’s youngest of five, Zac Call, a member of Snow Canyon’s varsity team, in person. The live streams have given her a way to keep up with her family.
“It’s really cool when Amy (Zac’s mother) can give me and my other sister in Washington a call and say, ‘Zac is going to be on in a half an hour,’ and we can pull it up and watch his game,” Mijatovich said. “We just felt that was the closest we were all going to get together this year. It was really fun …. It’s cute because you feel like you’re sitting right next to each other.”
It’s a feature that may last: both Dixie and Snow Canyon intend on continuing broadcasts into spring sports and deep into the future. Hamlin said he would like to eventually hand the reins over to the high school and maybe get the students involved in the same way Dixie does now. It will be one of the lasting effects of the coronavirus era, a period so rampant with isolation that it forced people across the globe to come up with new ways to be together.
For out-of-town relatives and fans, initiatives like Warrior Nation Network and Dixie High TV will be one remnant that will continue bringing people together after the pandemic ends.
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