Goodman Shaffer: Technology opens sports world


I remember as a kid lying in bed late at night carefully tuning in the radio, hoping to catch a live baseball game somewhere on the AM dial. The later the hour in my family’s rural northeastern Pa. mountaintop home, the better the chance of getting a clear signal. Sometimes I’d listen to the Phillies or the Pirates; other times, on a clear night, I could hear a game from Chicago.

The plays of the game came into my bedroom, with only the voices of the announcers and background sounds of the ballgame to paint the pictures in my mind. Like many in my generation and those before us, I “watched” sports through my imagination, as interpreted from the talented play-by-play and color announcers.

This week, I’ve been watching live webcam coverage of my niece’s Division III college softball games, provided by a Myrtle Beach sports complex backstop-mounted video camera. The production is primitive: no announcers, just background sounds, but I can figure out who’s at bat and see every play from start to finish. It’s nothing fancy, but with the challenges of my work schedule, it is the only chance I have to see her play hundreds of miles away during her spring break trip.

Broadcast technology has advanced at a breakneck pace. Growing up, my family planned road trips during Penn State games so we could listen to the games on the radio when they were not on TV. Today, college football can be found on multiple all-sports channels, conference networks and even on the internet. It’s almost impossible to miss a game that you want to see.

Just in my lifetime, the advancements in television technology are amazing. From cumbersome film cameras and basic graphics of the early days of sport broadcasting, to today’s high-tech productions, everything from pro football to community softball is more entertaining and more accessible than ever.

The bigger the event, the better the broadcast: the pinnacle being productions like the Super Bowl, World Series or Olympics. The creativity and imagination of talented technical production crews makes the action larger-than life. Dozens of cameras capture every angle, from game formations to facial expressions, making the audience feel like they are inside the action.

But technology is also making all athletics more accessible. College athletic programs like Penn State offer pages of video content on their websites, with interviews, recaps, and even live game action, even for sports that rarely enjoy broadcast coverage. And newspapers are expanding their websites, with multi-media features.

I still love listening to the radio, dreaming up the images of sporting events in my mind. But I also appreciate being able to pull up a website and see Pennsylvania schools like Mt. Aloysius and Kings College playing softball in South Carolina.

I wonder what we’ll be able to see in another 20 years…

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.