With attendance restrictions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, high school sports fans have still been able to put their feet up and watch many of their local competitions through a variety of online streaming options.

For fans of high school sports, now is typically the time where extra layers of clothing are gathered from the closet and hand warmers are stockpiled from local stores.

In 2020, the necessities are different. Try a laptop, tablet or cellphone and a spot on the couch.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, area athletics officials have worked to find ways to follow regulations about reduced attendance while still allowing folks to see their family, friends and neighbors play their games.

Streaming games online was already on the rise pre-pandemic, but it has never been more important than right now.

“It’s absolutely a struggle right now for so many,” Lake Geneva Badger athletic director Jim Kluge said of dealing with the coronavirus and its impact on high school sports. “Fan attendance is way down obviously, so we need as many options as possible to spotlight our athletes.”

The National Federation of State High School Associations is the voice behind rules of competition for the majority of high school sports and activities in the United States.

Among its members is the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association—the governing body for the state’s high school athletic programs.

In recent years, the NFSH has broadened its horizons into live streaming athletic competitions in order to better serve athletes, coaches, and most important, fan bases worldwide. A father stationed in the Middle East might now be able to watch his son’s Friday night football game or his daughter’s Saturday volleyball tournament live on www.nfhsnetwork.com.

Anyone with internet services can stream sports and other activities from high schools across the country, both live and on demand, via NFHS Network. You can watch online from home or on the go.

Facebook, YouTube and Hudl also offer streaming services.

For those high schools in the state that are participating in a fall sports season—which is about 75%—attendance is restricted at competitions. Stadiums and gymnasiums are allowing 25%capacity, and at indoor events masks are required for players, coaches and spectators. That makes being able to watch events live even more impactful.

“Now, if say you’re playing in a tournament at JustAGame in the Dells,” Kluge said, “you could hopefully watch it on NFHS Network or by some other vendor.”

Elkhorn Area High School is using several different vendors for its fall sports teams. Football uses YouTube to broadcast its games, the cross country teams are using Facebook Live and the boys soccer team is utilizing the NFSH live feed.

Elkhorn athletic director John Handel said as of last week, 795 fans had signed up for the YouTube subscription that allows viewers the opportunity to watch Elks events live.

“We seem to be getting more subscribers each and every week, and that’s what it’s all about,” Handel said. “The more options people have the better.”

I covered the Elkhorn vs. Westosha Central football game on Oct. 2, and at one time nearly 250 viewers were logged in on the YouTube Live feed.

Elkhorn’s boys soccer team played Westosha in a regional soccer game Saturday, and viewers could tune in to watch the game live on NFHS Network. Handel said the WIAA was charging Elkhorn $150 to broadcast the game.

The idea of the WIAA charging to broadcast a live event during these difficult times seems unfair, but it’s better than the alternative, which is not having any live events to broadcast. That, of course, is the case for the majority of area high schools that opted out of a fall season for a truncated spring season in 2021.