Leader Blues

Friday, August 28, 2009

SPORTS >> Stadium lights ... Camera ...Action!

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

Cabot and Jacksonville have had all their preseason tune-ups.

Now it is time for fans to tune in.

Cabot will play host to Jacksonville at Panther Stadium on Tuesday in the first Arkansas high school game to air live on statewide, commercial television.

“It’s going to be a big game,” Jacksonville fullback Doug Sprouse said. “It’s televised, we’ve been crosstown rivals for forever.

We’ve both got pretty good teams, good coaches. It’s going to be big. It’s going to be a change, being televised.”

A crew of 20, with two trucks, seven cameras and 3,000 feet of cable, will descend on Panther Stadium to broadcast the season opener, the first of a 12-game slate to be seen on KARZ-TV Channel 42, sister station to KARK-TV Channel 4 in Little Rock.

“I think there’s been some cable-access kind of stuff,” KARK assistant news director Jeff Whatley said. “But this is the first time on commercial television.

“It’s something Channel 4 has wanted to do for some time but couldn’t.”

The game is the only Tuesday matchup on the KARZ schedule. The other 11 games will air on Thursdays, and while it hasn’t been finalized, Whatley is hoping there will be a weekend re-broadcast on either KARK or KARZ.

“I think it’s great because it’s something that everybody else has been doing and it’s finally getting here to Arkansas,”

Jacksonville athletic director Jerry Wilson said. “And I think it’s going to be a big plus for our kids.”

Jeff Whatley is the brother of Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley, but said the relationship had nothing to do with the selection of

Cabot-Jacksonville for the historic, inaugural broadcast.

“We just know that was a good rivalry,” Jeff Whatley said.

“We know the electricity will be there,” Mark Whatley said.

Actually, electricity was a problem. Panther Stadium has been renovated and modernized over the years, but it lacked the wattage to power KARK’s production truck and the microwave truck that will handle the live feed.

“It takes a lot of power and we couldn’t accommodate all that stuff,” Cabot athletic director Johnny White said. “So we had to rent a generator to supply the power for all their equipment. Most of the old stadiums like ours – we’re overused as it is for power so we had to bring in a special generator. But we’re glad to do that and hopefully it will work out well for them.”

Another initial concern for Cabot was the gate. The school is hoping to pack Panther Stadium, which holds approximately 5,000, and there were fears a live TV broadcast would cut into the turnout.

Jeff Whatley said the station was paying each home team $500, which could offset a potential drop in attendance, and he said the re-broadcast option would allow people to come to the games and watch the TV coverage later.

“I think community spirit is going to solve that problem,” he said. “I think when people realize their community is going to be spotlighted on state-wide television they’re going to go out and show their community the best they can.”

Cabot coach Mike Malham said televised high school football might have more benefit for the sport overall than it would for a specific team.

“If somebody in Little Rock doesn’t have some team that they follow then they can sit there and watch a good high school game on TV,” Malham said. “And then after watching they might decide, ‘Hey this is kind of neat. Let’s go out and watch a ballgame.’ ”

Other states, like Texas, have had successful, live high school broadcasts for years. Whatley said KARK had wanted to put high school football on the air for some time, but it finally became possible when KARZ was launched in January.

KARK, an NBC affiliate, couldn’t do the broadcasts because they would conflict with scheduled, sponsored programming.

“Our company is actually based in Texas and we have some stations there and it’s proven well down there,” said Whatley, who believes local sports give viewers a unique option in the satellite and cable era. “There’s more and more of a push these days, especially with additional channels out there, and the thing that separates us from 300 other channels is it’s local.”

The game will air on Channel 42 if viewers have a satellite package. Cable subscribers are asked to check their local listings.

Throughout the off-season, production people visited the stadium sites to plan camera angles and press box space and solve other logistical problems. More bugs were worked out during a dress rehearsal at the four-team scrimmage at Sylvan Hills on Tuesday.

“That was probably the best decision we made,” Whatley said.

Dave Woodman and Aaron Nolan will handle the color and play by play at Panther Stadium, and Whatley said there would be slow motion replay and some graphics.

“It’s not going to look like NBC Sunday Night Football,” Whatley said. “But we feel like we can put on a good, live football product.”

There will be one-minute breaks after every score but no official television timeouts. An on-field guide will coordinate with officials to make sure action doesn’t resume before a commercial break has ended.

When its dead T offense is clicking, Cabot has been known to turn in some short games. But the extra time between plays, while slowing things down, might turn out to be a plus, Malham said.

“Early in the season that’s not bad until you get that game conditioning,” Malham said.

The added bright lights and exposure are potentially nerve-wracking, especially in a season opener when emotions are already high, but the players aren’t expecting any stage fright.

“It definitely heightens the anticipation for the game, that’s for sure,” Cabot senior quarterback Seth Bloomberg said. “I think we’ll still give great effort, it’s not going to affect us in any way. We’ll still go out there and play ball to the best of our ability.”

For Mark Whatley and the Red Devils and Malham and the Panthers, receiver screens and screen passes are always going to matter more than being on the small screen.

“A lot of times you go places and you stick around, a football game is going to break out here in a minute,” Whatley said of the hype surrounding the game. “So we’re going to stick around until the football game breaks out. That’s our job, that’s what we need to be concerned with. The distractions, you’ve got to keep them to a minimum and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”