By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
LE CENTER — Le Center, which lost its home high school football games to consolidation this year, is benefiting from the next best thing — live TV broadcasts of the action from nearby Montgomery.
The real-time telecasts on a local cable channel are precedent-setting for the Mankato region and a rarity among high schools statewide.
“People have been tickled to death. I’m pretty excited about this,” Tri-City United Schools Director of Technology Carl Menk said of the broadcasts airing this season on Midcontinent cable channel 57.
Menk said that when Le Center consolidated with Montgomery-Lonsdale, Le Center people who had supported their high school sports all their lives were suddenly left without home games in their community.
Understandably, that didn’t sit well with Le Center football boosters such as Dale Schmoll, who set about trying to get some type of live video hookup established in Le Center.
“We tried to do it last year, but we just couldn’t pull it off,” Schmoll said.
And now that it’s up and running?
“It’s helped bring the communities together a bit.”
Added Menk, “This was one of the best things we could do to smooth the waters.”
Menk said the logistics of airing the games involved installation of fiber optic wire at the athletic complex in Montgomery at a bargain price of $1,100 with local people donating their time for the task.
Mankato-based firms Enventis and Hickory Tech also lent key network support.
“Those engineers really stepped up in the 11th hour,” Menk said. “This type of thing is very, very hard to do on a shoestring budget.”
Because of that, the telecasts are rudimentary. A single camera is used and a local radio feed provides the play-by-play audio. Menk the goal is to improve upon the telecast quality as the effort moves forward.
Menk said a broadcast-quality telecast a la the digital reception people receive on commercial channels would require a $50,000 to $60,000 outlay.
But Menk said that for now the telecasts are serving their purpose by piping home games live into homes of Le Center people who can’t attend the games or choose not to.
Menk anticipates that cable viewers in Montgomery and Lonsdale will be on board with high school activities telecasts as soon as technical details can be worked out in those locales.