Waunakee High School in Waunakee, Wisconsin, got their outdoor video board in 2017, two weeks before football season started. Video Content Coordinator, speech and mass com teacher Jason McConnell had a background in mass media, so he was the logical person to jump in and get the ball rolling on content creation and control.
“Prior to our first home game, I went Burnsville, MN for a Video Summit, to get an idea of how everything was working,” McConnell says. “It is really cool to hear what other people are doing in Texas or South Carolina where they have a bigger stadium with 14,000 seats in a high school stadium.”
Inspired, McConnell spent some late nights creating content and getting ready for that first football season. Gradually, the school decided to incorporate video board production into the mass media class. The school approved a digital communications class, specifically dedicated to the video board in January of 2020, and the response from students was overwhelming.
“We had 110-120 kids interested in the class,” he explains. “So, we knew we were going to have to do some sort of application process.”
They aimed for a cross section of students – some with experience in Photoshop, 3D animation, or photography; and some with a sports background who know the game. They were ready to start in the fall.
Then the pandemic hit. McConnell had to redesign the class to accommodate remote learning, but oddly enough, he says it was a blessing in disguise.
“It’s kind of nice being able to go at a much slower pace with these kids,” he says. “A lot of them are heavy into graphic design or videography, but they never really thought about the structure of how a football game works and planning that goes into it. It’s been kind of a nice crash course for them, realizing just how much planning goes into this. It’s not just everybody showing up and tossing out the ball and here we go.”
Waunakee High School plans to start most of their sports in the spring, so they hope students will have a chance to run the digital board then. If all goes well, football, lacrosse and track and field will all be a go. That means the classes need to prepare now because there will be no time between seasons.
“We just finished up game scripting and getting them used to all the things that happen in a game,” says McConnell. “I gave the students certain scenarios where we have this script and I would say, ‘at 7 o’clock tomorrow night you are going to get this emergency email, and something is going to change. I’m not going to tell you what it is, but something is going to change, and you are going to have to adjust your script because that always happens.’”
The class is working hard to use some of the skills McConnell developed both through his own experience and from the Video Summit he attended. They take ideas that pro baseball or football teams use and adjust them to fit their skills and equipment to enhance the experience for the students and the fans.
“We did what we called Player Cards, which is just the graphic where the player number pops up,” McConnell explains. “The first year we did it, it was just text, the second year we added their picture, then we added kind of a 3-D background. This year we are looking at putting a motion animation behind it. We are looking to redo the touchdown name animation. You get a lot of different influences from different places.”
It comes down to getting the students excited as they gain experience.
“It’s all about helping kids create different things and letting them understand the different aspects of all the potential content that can go on a board,” says McConnell.