LEE — It’s almost game time, and freshman Cooper Maloney and sophomore Aiden Kline are getting ready for the opening tipoff. The Lee Middle and High School underclassmen with hand-held cameras are at opposite ends of the court, lining up their first close-up shots for a Monday evening girls basketball showdown as the Lee High Wildcats play rival Lenox.
Lee junior Maddie LePrevost will handle the camera perched at the top of the bleachers, providing the long shots and some close-ups as the action unfolds along the length of the court. Fifth grader Devyn Fillio will operate the elevated camera during the second half.
A fourth camera is fixed on the scoreboard.
The play-by-play commentators are senior Dylan Boomsma and junior Aiden Fennelly, who will split the duties describing the action: Boomsma will call the game when Lee has the ball; Fennelly the visiting Millionaires.
Directing the live, fast-paced broadcast over Community Television for the Southern Berkshires is senior Zach Bianco, who works behind the scenes from a makeshift studio set up in the hallway between the girls’ locker room and the gym.
Donning a headset, he communicates with the camera operators, letting them know what kind of shot he wants from each. He then pushes one of the two dozen buttons on the switcher to choose the desired camera angle.
“Cooper, tighten up you shot,” Bianco says, calmly, but with authority. After all, the director is in charge at all times.
“I make sure [the camera people] understand what I want, and before the game we make sure [the announcers] get comfortable with the names from the other team, not just Lee,” Bianco told an Eagle reporter.
The game was one of two the students broadcast that night — the Lee-Lenox boys’ game was the nightcap of the doubleheader.
In all, 30 students will have helped air 16 home games by the time the regular season wraps up Friday.
Since the coronavirus pandemic kept fans from attending in person, Lee High Athletic Director Keith Thomson asked school audio/visual teacher Matt Fillio — he’s Devyn’s father — if the students would be willing to record the games for playback on CTSB. Fillio offered to go a step further, and, with CTSB’s help, borrowed some equipment, such as the switcher, so the games could be aired as they happened.
The service not only benefited Lee High fans, but those from the visiting schools who could watch on CTSB or via a livestream. CTSB serves Sheffield, the home of Mount Everett Regional School; Great Barrington, host to Monument Mountain Regional High School; Stockbridge, as well as Lee and Lenox.
Thomson says the response to the broadcasts has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Those [students] have knocked it out of the park,” he said. “I’ve heard from other athletic directors who heard from their fans that the work has been outstanding.”
Matt Fillio has heard similar accolades.
“We’ve had people from other schools watch our games. One athletic director said the announcers did a great job,” he said.
Fillio says several pairs of students have teamed to be announcers — Boomsma and Fennelly getting the most airtime. The two say the key is to be objective and neutral, knowing that not just Lee fans are watching.
“We’ don’t bash the other teams, and we give good criticism and bad criticism to both teams,” Boomsma said.
Chemistry took time to develop
He and Fennelly have good chemistry, having played high school hockey together. With the announcers alternating play-by-play duties, that chemistry took some time to develop.
“The first couple of games, we would repeat what each other said; now, we don’t do that as much,” Fennelly said.
Twin seniors Lena and Lydia Simone have done one game and were scheduled to do a second, on Tuesday night. They, too, had to work on their timing so that what they said flowed naturally.
“When we started, we stepped on each other’s [words,] but as the game went on, we got better,” Lydia said.
Added Lena: “As the game went on, we did feed off each other, and I think that came from playing on the court together.”
The camera crews also have improved with each game. Maloney has been behind one of the floor cameras for all the games. He says the biggest challenge has been lining up a clean shot, as there is little room to position himself between the court end line and the gymnasium wall.
“The referees are always getting in the way, so I have to learn to move the camera around them,” he said.
Fillio knew Bianco was his man to run the show, since he was no stranger to directing or recording events for the school and CTSB. But, a basketball game proved challenging, especially making sure that he could master the camera switcher.
“All those buttons seemed intimidating; after a couple of games, I got the hang of it,” he said.
Bianco’s broadcast experience on the local level has prompted him to attend Westfield State University in the fall, to study communications.
“If it wasn’t for CTSB, I wouldn’t be involved at all,” he said.