There's a certain amount of people you can count on in a high school football press box. Coordinators for teams, an announcer and a couple of journalists, print or otherwise, are the usual suspects.
For Marshfield, it’s a guarantee that you’ll get at least Stacy Atkison, along with one or more of his kids, to provide a video broadcast with Marshfield Web TV.
"We haven’t missed a game in 13 years," Atkison said proudly.
It’s a pretty special perk of being part of the Jays’ family for those unable to watch games live.
Born in Marshfield, Atkison says his dad petitioned the FCC to bring an FM station to Marshfield decades ago. His father called games back in the 1970s, and taking after him, Stacy worked at the station as a high schooler. With changes in ownership over time, that left no one covering the Blue Jays,
Atkison says that he pitched the idea of putting an audio stream online to Michael Wehrenberg (of Wehrenberg Design Company in Springfield) over a dozen years ago. He's changed jobs over that time, working in real estate, then in politics as Recorder of Deeds of Webster County, and now selling software to offices. In that time, the audio broadcast has added video, undoubtedly providing even more incentive for Marshfield fans to tune in.
"It's really grown over the years,” Atkison said. "When we first started out, I didn’t keep track of unique hits or anything, but just last year we averaged over 800 unique hits per game. A lot of times, it’ll be two or three families getting together, hooking their computers up to a big screen TV and sending texts to us saying, 'Hey, we’re watching the game.' That’s pretty fun."
The crew for games initially involved Atkison and one of his best friends, Jim Tyson, who used to go to Marshfield football games and enjoy the atmosphere of the sidelines when Jack Randolph coached the Jays. After years together with the longtime friends serving as a broadcasting pair, the normal crew these days is a family duo of Stacy and his son Bo, giving webcasts some insight of a former local multi-sport athlete.
"It's always been a family affair," Stacy says. "My 24-year-old daughter graduated a few years ago, and she was my camera girl, but in high school she would fill in on-air and Bo would work the camera until he was a freshman and playing. Now, I’ve got 14-year-old twins, Seth and Reece. Seth’s been my camera guy the last few years, though now he’s playing so I’m going to lose him. But we always find a way to make it happen.”
The setup for games includes headsets and a camera that are connected to a media box, which plugs into Atkison’s PC. It’s a simplistic one, but that doesn’t mean there aren't any complications.
"When you're dealing with technology and cell signals and relying on all those factors … last year at Rogersville, we had a piece of equipment fail, the piece that takes our signal from the mixing board into the computer," Atkison said. "We put the word out on Twitter and Facebook that everyone would have to catch the game on Periscope. We still had several hundred people find us, even if it wasn’t our normal crowd, but we always put a disclaimer out to our advertisers that when you’re dealing with technology, glitches happen, and we’ll do our best when they do. That was probably the closest we got to not [broadcasting] a game at all.”
Part of what makes a venture that is often just a break-even one worthwhile is the distance to which they reach. That might be former players now competing at the collegiate level in state, older siblings or grandparents of players or coaches in nearby states, or around the world. Atkison has counted viewers from 17 different countries who have tuned in.
"This one time, we got an email from a [military] sailor's mom," Atkison said. "She couldn't tell where he was because he couldn't say, but him and the other sailors were in the ocean somewhere watching the Marshfield football game. That's pretty cool to know that military kids can go on and still tune into their high school team on Friday night."
Sometimes it’s even locals who simply can’t make the trek for games, which aren’t limited to football, but have over the years included other Blue Jays sporting events.
“When the weather gets bad and some older people in the community don’t want to get out and fight it, I always enjoy getting texts from them saying that they’re two blocks from the stadium and tuning in,” Atkison said.
The productions have allowed those who love Marshfield athletics to watch or listen to games online since the time the current Blue Jays seniors were in preschool. It’s certainly not driven by profit. “It costs quite a bit of money to do this,” Atkison says, adding, “We couldn’t do it without the sponsors we have that help cover our expenses. It’s nice the community is involved.”
For him, the richness is in getting to do the games with his family. That doesn’t make it without its challenges, but it’s more than positive over the course of a season.
“Sometimes when you’re dealing with siblings, you have to take a break, so I won’t say there aren’t obstacles,” Atkison says, laughing. “But take the McDonald County trip; there’s four extra hours of drive time I got to be with my kids, then the meal after the game. It’s just good quality time with the family.
“Plus, we’d be at the game whether we’re broadcasting or not. That’s just who we are. On Friday nights in Marshfield, you plan on watching the football team.”
Atkison is happy to give a nod to The Mail coverage from over the years, too, but knows that even in a cozy one, there’s still plenty of room for everyone to fit in the press box and give exposure to Blue Jay athletics.
"Some people think that we’d be competing or something, but I don’t think that at all," Atkison said. "I want the kids to get all the coverage they can get. It’s a small community, and we all work together."