HOULTON, Maine — When the high school basketball season tips off Monday, things will be vastly different than in previous years.
Gone will be the sounds of fans cheering and the smell of popcorn as all games will be played inside empty gymnasiums with players, coaches and officials all wearing masks.
While no spectators will be allowed, fans will still be able to watch nearly every game this season from the comfort of their own homes thanks to a collaborative effort between Northern Maine Media and WAGM-TV in Presque Isle.
“We will have a camera in every gymnasium in Aroostook County, with the exception of Madawaska,” said Fred Grant, owner of Northern Maine Media Inc./WHOU-FM in Houlton. “Our plan is to cover every game that happens in the gym, whether it is varsity, JV or middle school.”
Madawaska is not included in the collaboration between the two media groups as the district has its own online television station (WOWL) and will broadcast games on a YouTube Channel.
Games at Fort Kent will be handled by WFKT, in conjunction with Northern Maine Media.
The streaming of games also extends to hockey for both Presque Isle and Houlton, Grant said.
Basketball season is officially scheduled to begin Monday with the Easton boys playing at Fort Fairfield and Southern Aroostook boys traveling to Hodgdon. The schedule is subject to change based on weather conditions or school changes in their learning modes required because of COVID-19.
Most Aroostook County teams are scheduled for 12 games except for Fort Kent, Madawaska and Wisdom — which are in a remote-learning mode and will not play until Feb. 1. Those schools plan eight-game schedules.
Many games will feature the traditional broadcasting style featuring play-by-play descriptions of the action. But it is possible broadcasters will not physically be inside the gymnasium.
“We have the ability to have our broadcasters call a game from our studio,” Grant said. “We have done that in the past and it has worked really well.”
Other basketball games may only feature a video feed without any announcers. All games featuring announcers will be free to the public. Those games featuring video only will be for WHOU.live subscribers only. A subscription costs $10 per month, or $85 per year.
In addition to games from The County, Dale Duff will handle all Bangor High School games, along with a number of other games in Greater Bangor. Hockey games involving teams from The County played at Old Town-Orono, Hampden Academy, John Bapst and other locations also will be featured.
“Right now, we have close to 260 games on our list,” Grant said.
Grant said the response from area schools to allowing video cameras into their gymnasiums was overwhelmingly positive. Hodgdon Middle-High School actually went above and beyond by building a “Hawk’s Nest” near center court for a camera operator.
“Schools were very excited,” Grant said. “It really began back during graduation and continued on to soccer season. Every AD we have talked with has been thrilled that we are able to stream games.”