Michael Hardin

St. Regis Falls math teacher Michael Hardin prepares a live stream of the St. Regis Falls girls basketball game against Salmon River for viewers at home to watch. Evan Wheaton/Malone Telegram

ST. REGIS FALLS – In the age of empty gyms in the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools across the North Country have looked to broadcasting games for spectators at home.

But there’s something that stands out with St. Regis Falls. With a mobile camera unit in the gym, 4th-6th grade math teacher Michael Hardin controls live streams with a Nintendo Switch controller right from his classroom.

“They recommend Xbox, but we had a Switch controller hanging around and it seems to work well,” Hardin said.

The current setup is a far cry from early plans to stream basketball games.

“We originally talked about the possibility of having somebody in the gym with just an iPad panning back and forth,” Hardin said. “When that didn’t seem like it was going to be the quality we wanted, our tech people from NERIC went out and they did some research and found a camera we could control remotely.”

The PTZOptics camera runs through the network with the school’s IP and is controlled remotely with a program on Hardin’s laptop down the hall using Möbius software. A mic is also placed among the rig to pick up sound within the gym.

“As far as controlling it with a game controller, I would say that’s all Mr. Hardin’s knowledge,” Secondary Principal Corey Flynn said. “Being able to figure out how to use a device that easily allows him to control the camera – both the set points for the speed at which it pans and tilts – instead of using the keyboard like you can do with the software – figuring out a workaround for that is just his tech ingenuity I guess.”

Hardin – a Google-certified educator – used three monitors and a projector to pull up different streams through the abbreviated winter sports season.

“We decided that we had the school’s Facebook page e – that is probably the best place to stream to,” Hardin said. “And for people who don’t have Facebook, we said we would stream it on the school’s website using YouTube.”

The idea to utilize the monitors stemmed from complications the pandemic has given Hardin as an instructor.

“COVID has really put a damper to one of the ways I like to teach. I like to have the kids up and at all the whiteboards around the room,” Hardin said. “It’s been a lot harder because we have to keep the kids six feet apart, so I haven’t been able to use them. But generally, that’s why there’s a monitor above each bank of whiteboards.”

The equipment came in the knick of time. More precisely, it arrived the afternoon before the first home game – girls basketball versus Tupper Lake – on March 8. The St. Regis Falls tech department set it up immediately.

“We struggled, but we got everything set up so we could stream and got all the hiccups out that first night,” Hardin said. “Now I think things are going well.”

In just under a month’s time, the school district has been well-received from not just the community, but other areas of the United States.

“At one of the recent parent advisory meetings we had, one of the pieces of feedback that we received was for the first time, some grandparents in Arizona were able to feel like they were a part of what was happening at school for their grandkids,” Flynn said.

Whether parents aren’t allowed in gyms due to COVID-19 restrictions, or grandparents are out-of-state, North Country schools streaming their games has become not only the norm, but a new alternative.

For St. Regis Falls, the unique setup has been useful for more than just basketball. It was recently used to stream an honor society induction.

“We look to have it be something that’s a part of what we do at St. Regis Falls for the future,” Flynn said. “That’s why we went with a mobile unit like ours, so we can bring it to events like graduation and stream it or bring it in for a concert, different events like that.”

While Hardin takes the reins in the early days of streaming at St. Regis Falls, he sees the setup as something his students can use in due time.

“I think it’ll stick for at least many years,” Hardin said. “Hopefully things will go back sort of to normal and we’ll be able to have the AV club kids running this and controlling it for the games. That’s where I’d like to see it going.”

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