Fans Haven’t Been Allowed to Attend Games, Instead Stream Broadcasts from Home
Broadcasters Matthew Kaplan, a senior, and Joey Wilson, father of senior point guard Simmy Wilson, mulled over which player should win that night’s “Kedem Grape Juice Player of the Game.” Should junior forward Elliot Sokol’s backward spinning layup carry the day for him, or did senior forward Noah Chen’s two drawn charges tip the scales in his favor? Scorekeeper Mike Chen, Noah’s father, made his way across the gym to read out each player’s point total; Matthew and the elder Wilson decided that Elliot’s greater point total won him the tiebreaker.
Before signing off, Wilson elaborated on the origin of the Kedem Grape Juice Player of the Game Award, which recognizes AJA’s “most valuable player” for that game. He explained that his classmate, Binyomin Cohen (YHS ‘93), had coined the award back when he had played basketball for Yeshiva High School, AJA’s predecessor.
This short discussion was emblematic of boys basketball games this season. Broadcasters Matthew and Wilson try to engage their audience with tidbits and factoids, some present and some historic, with the elder Chen supplying statistics. At the same time, other than the occasional Yearbook photographer and timekeeping maven Scott Forbus, the three of them were the sole spectators in the empty gym not intimately involved in the game as players, coaches, or referees.
Broadcasters Matthew and Wilson try to engage their audience with tidbits and factoids, some present and some historic, with the elder Chen supplying statistics.
Since the beginning of the season, fans have been unable to attend basketball games in person. Unlike flag football, which is played outdoors on a large field, AJA felt that an indoor gym was cramped and less conducive to following COVID-19 protocols. Leading up to the game against the Weber School on December 19, Athletic Director Rodney Zimmerman circulated a sign-up sheet for 20 parents and seniors, but that game was canceled the day before because of a COVID scare on the Weber team. Coming back in January, Coach Zimmerman was instructed to “hold off on fans” for the “school health committee and administration… to gauge COVID number increases,” he wrote in an email interview. Therefore, parents and other fans have resorted to watching the games live broadcast, first on Zoom and more recently on AJA’s Facebook Live page.
While players don’t enjoy playing without fans in attendance, they were split on how much it affected their play. Noah Chen said, “It’s just less exciting… because you don’t hear a big cheer when you block somebody… I guess it’s kind of deflating.” Even so, he argued it “is not really that big of a deal because you can still motivate yourself.”
Sophomore guard Ezra Feen concurred. Normally, “classmates and fans are all giving you energy. Cheering… gives you momentum, [which] would definitely help,” although he maintained an empty gym did not really affect his play.
“It’s kind of a letdown. I’ve been waiting for this for four years… I still enjoy it, still get to be with a great team of guys and have a great time playing basketball. But it’s just not the same as it would have been in a non-COVID world.”– Senior Forward Noah Chen
Josh Asherian, a junior combo guard-forward, disagreed. “Once a team — especially ours — goes on a run, they go on a run,” he explained, emphasizing the role of momentum in a basketball game. “The crowd, the hype, the cheering, it all gets us going. It really helps get our team motivated and hyped up to play.” Granting a larger role to the positive effects of crowd energy and the comparatively-negative effects of their absence, he said, “An empty gym definitely affects the way we play.”
Noah added that as a senior, “It’s kind of a letdown. I’ve been waiting for this for four years… I still enjoy it, still get to be with a great team of guys and have a great time playing basketball. But it’s just not the same as it would have been in a non-COVID world.”
For their part, parents want to attend games. Shari Sokol, a middle school teacher and junior Elliot’s mother, said, “It brings me joy to watch [Elliot] ‘get into it.’ I want to be able to watch him play too because he will soon, G-d willing, be off to Israel and college.”
Watching at home does present certain positives, such as avoiding drive-time, multitasking with dinner, and “the ability to airplay it on our big TV,” which Mrs. Sokol described as like “watching the NBA!” But for parents, attending games in-person outweighs the silver-lining on the dark cloud that is watching a game virtually.
Jodi Wittenberg, center Yered’s mother, said, “I think you miss out on the ruach [spirit], you miss out on the camaraderie, and I think these sports games bring school spirit and they bring families together and build community.” She also mentioned a “community and connecting factor” between families and parents that Zoom and Facebook Live inhibit just by the way they operate.
Similarly, Mrs. Sokol added, “Seeing the action in person, feeling the energy, watching it with your own eyes, cheering for the team, complaining about bad calls, socializing and laughing with fellow team parents — that’s all missed a great deal.”
Both Wittenberg and Mrs. Sokol strongly believed that fans should be allowed to attend games. They argued that the gym is large enough to fit fans inside while socially distanced, and people are now accustomed to following restrictions. Furthermore, if anyone does not feel comfortable with the situation, they expressed, then those who feel that way do not have to come, but they would like to have the option.
“I think you miss out on the ruach [spirit], you miss out on the camaraderie, and I think these sports games bring school spirit and they bring families together and build community.”– Jodi Wittenberg, mother of center Yered Wittenberg
Joey Wilson was another parent who wanted to be able to watch his son play in person, and instead of resigning himself to wait until the school changed its policy, Wilson decided to take proactive steps. He approached Coach Zimmerman with what he called a “win-win-win” deal.
Wilson said it was evident from the first game that Coach Zimmerman “is a busy guy, he has a lot of other things to do,” and filming a game probably didn’t rank highly on his list of priorities. He also thought that by filming and announcing the game, he could help the viewers at home follow the action. He elaborated, “The ultimate goal of a broadcast is to make it feel like you are sitting at the game and you can follow what’s going on. That’s what I tried to do with my own broadcast in addition to just streaming it.”
As a friend to the players, [Matthew] knows what their mindset and what they talk about before and after the game, which Wilson thinks the audience appreciates.
Around the same time, Admissions Director Mrs. Erica Gal had recruited Matthew Kaplan to take over videoing from Coach Zimmerman. Wilson and Matthew opted to team up as a duo in the so-called broadcast booth.
Wilson explained that Matthew can add an “inside-man” perspective as a student: As a friend to the players, he knows what their mindset and what they talk about before and after the game, which Wilson thinks the audience appreciates. Having played for Yeshiva High School in his own high school days and talking largely to a group of parents, many of whom are alumni, Wilson thinks his insights can add to the viewers’ experience as well, in addition to the play-by-play commentary. Watching on a small phone (or even a larger computer or TV), it can be difficult to tell exactly what is happening in the game without narration.
Unlike most broadcasters, however, Wilson hopes his online audience soon shrinks. That would mean that parents and the occasional student who tunes in online were allowed to attend in person, an outcome preferred by players and fans alike.
In a January 21 email, Coach Zimmerman said that the school-imposed hiatus imposed on fans after winter break was nearing an end. At the time, he hoped that fans would be allowed into the gym in the coming weeks, at least in a limited capacity.
Even if and when that comes to pass, it seems unlikely everyone wanting to attend will be able to, so the broadcast seems likely to continue for the rest of the season.