Kyle Goodrich (left) of Brewer tries to get the ball away from Hampden Academy's Zach McLaughlin during a Jan. 22 game in Brewer. Coach Ben Goodwin and the Witches are among the teams that are using livestreaming to scout future opponents. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

While there are no fans at high school basketball games this season due to mass-gathering limits brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, that doesn’t mean people haven’t been watching.

The livestreaming of home games by some schools in recent years has grown exponentially this winter as they try to make the events accessible to high school basketball families, friends and fans around Maine and beyond.

One recent Brewer High School boys basketball home game attracted about 1,000 viewers to the school’s YouTube channel, according to Witches head coach Ben Goodwin.

“My parents usually go to Florida for the winter and that’s a great opportunity for them to be able watch some games and get that interaction at least through the livestream on television,” said Goodwin, whose son Ryder is a sophomore forward at Brewer. “So if they’re not here they can still watch the games.”

Many games are aired on school-based channels through YouTube and Facebook Live, while private entities such as of Houlton and the Bangor-based Ticket TV at also stream games.

The National Federation of State High School Associations also has expanded its livestreaming reach nationwide this year, providing free cameras for schools in exchange for using the games from those feeds as programming for the NFHS Network.

Another byproduct of the mass availability of high school games through livestreaming is that it has revolutionized game preparation by coaches and players, particularly when it comes to scouting future opponents.

Instead of traveling around the region to watch games in person — trips that during the week usually conclude with a late-night arrival back home — coaches can watch those games online from the comfort of their homes.

“For me it’s made scouting a lot easier,” said Jason Mills, boys varsity basketball coach at Penquis Valley High School in Milo. “Because usually everybody plays on the same nights, a lot of times you don’t get a chance to scout, but now after a game you can go back and watch your game or other games.”

Coaches typically break down videos of the games they’ve watched for scouting purposes, then put together personalized reports and distribute them to their players electronically.

“We have a program where we can break the game down and I send kids clips in a quick email,” Goodwin said. “We also have a program where they can go in and watch and I can see who watched the videos and what clips they’ve seen. They can add notes and I can add notes.”

Goodwin mentioned his team’s preparation for a recent game against Ellsworth, a team Brewer doesn’t normally face during the regular season but is playing this winter as part of regionalized schedules created to reduce travel during pandemic.

The Witches made a video scouting report gleaned from livestreams of some previous Ellsworth games, including an overtime loss to Mount Desert Island the night before Brewer faced the Eagles.

“That’s how [assistant coach Scott] Flagg did our scouting report for us, off that game, so we had a pretty good idea coming in of who their top players were and we had a defensive strategy of how we were going to try to shut those guys down,” Goodwin said.

Coaches say involving the players in this phase of preparation is another way to make them students of the game.

“One thing that we’ve done is send them video links of the games on a given night and asked them to watch,” Foxcroft Academy coach Toby Nelson said. “I’m going to watch them and report out, but I want to hear what the kids say; ‘Who are the kids you need to stop, ‘What position do you play and how are you going to make us better when we play that team?’”

Goodwin said the response to a similar effort at Brewer has been encouraging, with his players contributing to the advance scouting process with observations or suggestions.

“The kids love basketball. They love to compete, so with everything being on their phone now, they know what’s happened and can look things up,” he said.

Access to livestreamed games also has come in handy during periods when teams are shut down temporarily due to COVID-19 issues.

“I’ve told the kids that there’s still cases in our area and you’ve got to be careful when you’re out and about,” said Mills, whose son Zak is a senior captain. “If you don’t need to go out, stay home so we can try to get through this season, and that’s enticed them to watch because they have all these different games they can see.”

What appears obvious is that scouting via livestreaming will remain pivotal to the game preparation process long after COVID-19 has abated.

“I don’t see the streaming going away,” Nelson said. “We’ve really made that part of our focus to get these kids ready for their games.”

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...