"Friday Night Lights" beamed live to Iraq

West Texas high school to bring football to the troops via videoconference.


Soldiers based at Camp Al Asad in Iraq will be getting a little taste of home beamed live to them on Friday when the Tigers of Snyder High School take on the Mighty Golden Tornadoes of neighboring Lamesa in a classic west Texas football match-up under the lights.

The game isn't being broadcast on national or cable TV. Rather, the school is using gear from the Freedom Calls Foundation, Tandberg and AT&T to send the game via videoconference to a recreation room at Al Asad. A handful of soldiers from the Snyder area are stationed there, including the son of a Tigers' assistant coach.

"We've sent some Snyder Tigers shirts and caps over [to Iraq]," says Larry Scott, Snyder High School's principal and one of the drivers behind the event.

High School football is big in rural west Texas as evidenced by the book, movie and current "Friday Night Lights" television show, the first two of which featured Permian High School in Odessa, two hours west of Snyder. "[Football] brings the whole community together," Scott says, adding that Snyder usually sees crowds of 2,000 to 3,000 people. The town population is 10,000.

All the games are broadcast on local radio, but getting video from the field proved to be a bit of a challenge, because there was no network connectivity to the home press box. To link to the school's network, two local companies -- Permian Communications and Kinder Morgan, an oil company -- donated antennas and trucks to build a temporary wireless network to connect the field to the school's LAN. The line-of-sight wireless antennas had to be placed high enough to get over the visitors' stands, says Tommy Bearden, distance learning consultant for the Region 14 Education Service Center, which includes Snyder and 41 other school districts.

Video will be captured through a standard video camera on a tripod that's connected to a Tandberg videoconferencing codec. It'll be broadcast through AT&T's network at roughly 256Kbps to another Tandberg video unit at Al Asad.

Bandwidth coming out of the school is not an issue because most of the campuses in the Region 14 district are connected via fibre. The district itself encompasses 12,000 square miles (a bigger area than Massachusetts), so videoconferencing is used extensively for distance learning already, Bearden says.

The game itself is the last home date of the season for the Snyder Tigers. To add to the festivities, AT&T is hosting a tailgate party for military families, and Scott is hoping that families will get a chance to say hello to their loved ones in Iraq during the game.

For the guys in Iraq, where the game will be on at 4:30 a.m. local time, the picture won't be ESPN HD quality, but it should be a nice reminder of home and Friday-night high school football.

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