Anyone unable to attend the Nebraska State Softball Tournament starting Wednesday at the Smith Softball Complex will have new options for following their favorite teams this year.
Organizers have implemented a scorekeeping computer program, called GameChanger, for the first time during the tournament.
Pete Theoharis, Hastings High's softball coach, described the program as a digital scorebook. In addition to tracking scores and stats through the game, the program provides real-time updates through the Internet.
Officials will have an iPad on each field to record statistics with the program. Games will be available through the Nebraska School Activities Association website, which is www.nsaahome.org. Basic information about the games will be free with more detailed information available by subscription.
The program can provide play-by-play updates, including runners on base and where each hit lands. The program can be accessed by any device that can connect to the Internet, including smartphones.
Theoharis has used the program for five years during high school games. When a game is over, the stats are already compiled. Scorekeepers are trained in use of the program.
"I feel like we are pretty proficient with it," he said. "It's a great program."
Sarah Sasse-Kildow, NSAA assistant director, said there are several programs that have been developed to assist with the scorekeeping of various games. Teams generally start using the programs and after they have been proven to work well, tournament directors consider using them for tournaments.
In addition to GameChanger, the NSAA will be adding other ways for fans unable to make it to the tournament to follow along.
Twitter posts will be made on the NSAA account periodically through a game and at the end of a game.
Games will be streamed live over the Internet as well, thanks to a partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations. The semifinal games and championship games for each class will be webstreamed on Friday.
"This is our first year with the NFHS network," Sasse-Kildow said. "We're really excited about that partnership."
Jeff Hassenstab, superintendent of the Hastings Parks and Recreation Department, said the city boosted its Internet capabilities in the complex to provide more bandwidth for up and coming technology being used at the tournament. By adding extra modems, he said they hope to avoid disconnections and downed service.
It's an investment that is likely to pay off in the future with future bids to host the tournament. Bellevue won the bid to host the tournament in 2012 and 2014, but had to bow out after flooding prevented the fields from being constructed.
With Bellevue unable to fulfill the bid, Hastings agreed to host the tournament last year and will do so again next year.
With a long history in hosting tournaments at the complex, Hassenstab said most of the preparations were routine. Crews helped install black wind screen around the complex. They brought in extra bleachers, painted the lines and spruced up the complex to welcome teams from around the state.
"We paid a little more attention to details," he said.
Co-site directors Tracy Douglas and Bob Moderow had a number of details to attend to, as well. They have added scaffolding for photographers and camera crews. The ticket booths were moved to the main entrance. Additional staking was completed along the outfield fences to prevent balls from rolling outside the play area.
For Douglas, this is her first year as a tournament organizer, inherited after taking over the position of activities director at Hastings High. She has helped in various positions during the tournament as a volunteer, so she is familiar with the basics.
"I have to have Bob show me the ropes," she said.
Several organizations coordinate to make the tournament a success, including the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce, Hastings Parks and Recreation Department, Hastings Public Schools officials, maintenance staff, Hastings College baseball and softball teams, as well as the NSAA itself.
In previous years, Douglas said they have had trouble finding enough volunteers to fill all the required positions. This year, that wasn't an issue.
"As this event continues to be in Hastings, we've seen greater community support," she said.