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New after-school club aims to bring virtual crowds to Amherst school events, games amid COVID restrictions

Posted at 6:19 AM, Jan 04, 2021

AMHERST — Sam Barrett admits he’s spent a lot of his senior year wishful thinking.

“For me, it's been very different,” he said. “We definitely wish it could go back to how it was.”

Things he loves about Marion L. Steele High School just aren’t the same, especially when it came to Friday night football.

“I was used to like the student section were all packed, standing up, screaming and everything and then that just didn’t happen,” Barrett said.

Due to COVID, those football traditions were banned at games and the stadium sat pretty empty. Only a limited number of people were allowed in to cheer on players.

“There's a great amount of pride in this community and they want to see what's going on,” said Doug Cogdell, Technology Coordinator for the Amherst Exempted Village School District. Expectations are changing. We’re seeing it.”

So, Cogdell and a few others came up with an idea that ultimately putting Barrett and his passion for broadcasting to work.

“I got handed a camera, a tripod stand said this is your computer. Here’s your wires. Good luck,” Barrett explained. “I just followed the game and acted like I was filming it for the news.”

Cogdell says they had never livestreamed a school event. He admits it wasn’t their best work and his department was a little embarrassed by the quality, but it was the first time they saw demand from the community.

“We scrambled you know, we took whatever technology we could get our hands on with this little streaming stick for like one hundred and fifty bucks and attached it to a camera we borrowed, streamed it to YouTube and realized, wow, people are watching this.”

The livestream was such a success the school district sent over funding and helped approve a $16,000 grant to buy more equipment and create a new after school club called “Comets Live.”

“After we come back from break, we're going to have some sign ups. So, we're going to probably have a community night or something where the kids can come in and learn about it,” Cogdell said. “We're hoping to have about a dozen students, maybe seventh grade through 12th grade with just a good mixture of kids and some mentorship and teamwork where we're looking at creating the best possible product for our community that honors our athletes and students and our academics and all the different things that we like to cover.”

As this group set off to reconnect the community and being back school pride, it’s hard to ignore the passion from and dedication from Barrett that made it all possible.

I don't consider myself like a superhero for it, it's just something that I'm interested in,” said Barrett.