by Rebecca Stotsky, Sports Reporter & John Timko, Sports Contributor
graphic by Angus Nichols
Step into the field house, the hockey rink, the pool or the gymnastics gym, and you’ll notice an eerie silence: while many winter sports have begun playing, fans are not permitted to watch due to COVID-19 regulations. Although it doesn’t quite offer the same atmosphere as a full arena, the boys and girls ice hockey teams, the boys and girls basketball teams and the girls gymnastics team have transitioned to livestreaming their competitions to allow family, friends and classmates to tune in.
The restriction on team bonding has perhaps been the pandemic’s most profound impact on team sports, junior hockey player Daniel Schwartzman said. The locker room is the center of team bonding before and after games, he said, but this year, they have been eliminated, per Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) COVID restrictions.
“It took away the locker rooms, which is probably one of the biggest parts of the team, because it really helps build relationships and get ready for practices and games,” Schwartzman said.
Preparing for games has proved a challenge, sophomore girls hockey player
Hadley Conroy said, because during practice, restrictions limit physical contact and realistic game situations.
“We have to work a lot harder off the ice to prepare, and everybody has to individually practice so that we’re not falling behind,” she said.
Sophomore boys’ basketball player Yoav Rabbi said that because he’s had less space to practice basketball, he has noticed his shot has been off.
Sports games in general build school spirit, junior class officer Sydney Finkelstein said, but such in person events have been absent from this year.
“The crowd really brings a different type of hype around the game,” Schwartzman said. “Especially when you get a crucial goal, and the crowd goes crazy, you get that feeling of excitement, and now you really can’t get that.”
Without a crowd, the stakes feel lower, so the usual nerves are gone, girls’ South and-North combined hockey captain senior Olivia Sliwa said.
“Now it feels like a scrimmage because nobody’s watching,” she said.
Conroy said the girls’ hockey team started a YouTube channel to stream their games.
“After playing away, we noticed a lot of students had YouTube channels and would stream the games live. So we started a YouTube channel, and so now we are recording our games through that,” she said.
The girls ice hockey home games are also being livestreamed through Newton North TV, which is run by Newton North students and also livestreams boys ice hockey and girls and boys basketball games. The boys ice hockey team, who have been streaming their games in prior years before COVID-19, has seen an increase in online viewership this year.
“I know that based on the first couple games, we’ve had a lot more viewers than we probably ever had before for obvious reasons, especially when parents aren’t allowed to go in the rink,” boys ice hockey coach Chris Ryberg said.
While still not the same as in-person fans, Schwartzman said it’s comforting to know people are cheering his team on from home.
An added bonus of livestreaming games is that it makes it more accessible to those who would otherwise be unable to watch, including family members from different distances, Conroy said. It also eliminates logistical barriers to attendance.
“Now parents, if they might not have had the chance to come to a game because they had a conflict, can now just watch it online,” Sliwa said. “A bunch of my friends or past hockey players on the team can just go on the livestream and watch.”
Sophomore Leah Blum said she’s appreciated the opportunity to engage with her friends’ games, if from afar.
“Even though we can’t physically support our classmates, the fact that we can still watch them over a livestream allows South to be connected in some sort of way rather than none,” she said.
Livestreams offer a unique opportunity for freshmen to learn more about school spirit at South, Finkelstein said
“Especially for the incoming freshmen, they haven’t been to any of the sports games, so they have no idea what it’s like,” she said. “This could just give them some kind of glimpse of getting involved and seeing a little bit what it is and getting excited in the future to watch.”
While livestreams allow families and friends to watch sporting events and support student-athletes, ultimately nothing compares to the unique energy of a well-attended game with fans, Rabbi said.
“I was at a couple of games last year in person. … Everybody was there. It was crazy, and I feel like, without fans, we have less energy,” he said. “So we just have to create our own. It just pushes us