Lights, Camera, Action!

One dedicated dad’s live webcast lets even those family members left at home share in coastal VA’s exciting journey

Tom Scott
Dana Dervay in action.

Bob Costas, he’s not. But Dana Dervay is gaining quite the following as a sportscaster. His fan base extends from his Virginia Beach hometown to California and all points in between, plus Canada, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Dervay first came to fame as head of the “Coastal AV” department for his son Russell’s club team, Coastal VA, and as the guy who masterminded live webcasts of their away games so the folks back home could follow along.

Seeing as Virginia Beach is not a geographic hub of boys’ volleyball, travel has been a big part of the team’s impressive journey to the upper echelon of their age group. Coastal finished third at the 2013 Junior Nationals as 16s and, to start off this year, they also finished third, as 17s, in the Southern California Volleyball Association’s Boys’ Invitational in Anaheim. Everybody wants to be at all the tournaments, of course, but family, work, and costs interfere with even the most devout fan’s priorities. And it’s to those people that “Devo,” Dervay’s call sign from his Navy days, is a bigger star than Bob Costas could ever hope to be.

It all started with a request from Coastal’s 15s coach, Steve Blevins. “He said, ‘Hey Devo, you love to figure stuff out. Is there any way we can stream our games so everybody can watch?’”

It took time plus trial and error to get a workable webcasting system in place, but it has now become a conduit for an unusually enjoyable ride for Coastal’s players, family, and friends. During the team’s great run in Anaheim earlier this year, 20-plus people gathered at the home of outside hitter Brett Rosenmeier. For the better part of that early January weekend, Brett’s mom Pam hosted friends and family who watched on her big screen TV as the team progressed to the gold bracket out west. Along with potluck food and a party atmosphere, there was a lot of cheering for the boys, with Devo as their trusty commentator.

“He does the play-by-play announcing, kind of pretending to be a true reporter,” Pam explained. Time-outs are filled with fake commercials. Webcast “sponsors” include “Elaine Barnes’ Cookies,” the non-existent bakery of Kyle Barnes’ mom, who always bakes the team’s favorite food, chocolate chip cookies. There’s “Tom Scott Photography: for all of your wedding and Bar Mitzvah needs,” in honor of Collin Scott’s dad, the amateur shutterbug, who takes professional-grade pictures all season long.

“I started out pretty conservatively, but I’ve loosened up a bit,” Devo said. His promos for “Chris Wiles Hot Spots: for all your hot spot needs” is a thank-you for the use of Chris’ 4G device, and its innuendo always gets giggles. Chris is Eric Wiles’ father, and along with Tom and Devo, he comprises part of the aforementioned Coastal AV Club, a throwback to the audio-visual techies of their own high school days.

There’s a lot of texting back and forth between announcer and viewers during games, and special shoutouts to people Devo knows have tuned-in are all part of the patter.

Negativity is never part of the coverage. Devo acknowledges good plays from opponents. That’s his nature, Pam noted, and also something he’s made a point of. “Actually, one of the reasons I started taping was to stop me from getting so agitated that I might say something inappropriate,” said Devo. “Having to actually think before I speak has allowed me a very measured approach to the game. I’m not looking for the defib station anymore!”

Devo is stumped when asked who his inspiration is as a commentator, but there’s no question about his motivation. “I’ve just known these boys for so many years and I’ve come to love them,” he said. “It’s become a real joy for me.”

The joy is spread liberally. From the get-go, Devo and fellow Coastal parents let opposing teams know of the webcast’s availability, especially for teams that are fellow travelers coming from afar. When 2004 Olympian Clay Stanley’s father learned what Devo was up to courtside in Anaheim this year, he was able to get his wife back in Hawaii signed in to the webcast server in time for their younger son’s match against Coastal. Similar stories abound.

Devo’s favorite fallout from the webcasts is their ability to keep everybody connected and let them share in the squad’s journey. Usually carrying just 10 members, Coastal is an especially tight-knit group of players and families.

The core of the team came together three years ago after the boys had been playing for three different clubs. With the eventual Coastal players split between teams, they all did average, Devo explained. “Going into their 15s year, the boys decided they wanted to play together.” The boys were right. “At their first tournament, in Delaware, we parents all said, ‘Wow! These guys play well together!’” They went on to win that tourney, several others, and finished second that year, 2012, losing to The HBC from Huntington Beach, Calif., at Junior Nationals in Dallas.

How It Works

The webcasting technology and equipment were new to Devo, but he did have a head start as a former Radar Intercept Officer flying in F-14 Tomcat fighter jets for the Navy. “Being in the cockpit with all that technology and seeing how it interplays with other equipment taught me that an elegant, easy solution is often the best.”

Cheap is good, too. When the webcasting gauntlet was first thrown down, Devo went online and found Sony’s Bloggie Camcorder, a cell-phone sized device with live streaming capability that sold for under $300. The camera’s ability to upload through a Wi-Fi was a highly touted feature, but Devo discovered that most Wi-Fi networks could not handle the streaming data load efficiently, if at all. Next, he learned that tapping into a venue’s higher capacity Wi-Fi network, like that at the Anaheim Convention Center, might work but the cost was astronomical. “They wanted $2,500 for us to live stream over the weekend,” he recalled.

He turned to the Bloggie’s less-touted feature, connectivity through a 4G network, now commonly found on relatively new phones. Using Chris Wiles’ 4G hot spot worked. The next step was finding a live streaming server to which the live feed could be uploaded by Devo and downloaded by viewers. A free web server called Qik did the job well.

Battery and memory capacity were more challenges to be tackled. A backup battery continually plugged into the camera during games addressed the first issue, and quick between-game data dumps free up space to shoot the next game’s action.

Even with all those hurdles cleared, there was still more to learn. “The video is not like you see on TV,” Devo explained. “It can be a little jittery.” That’s more the case for viewers downloading the feed to a relatively large screen: a computer or big screen TV. Feed to a cell phone screen is smooth, and the picture is crisp because smaller devices require a smaller data draw to fill their screens. But whatever the picture quality, it’s always good enough to follow the action, especially with Devo’s commentary describing the plays.

Surprisingly, Devo is not the gearhead lugging around big and cumbersome equipment. The Bloggie and the battery pack together weigh less than a pound and fit into his shirt pocket, leaving him with a tripod in one hand and the other hand free.

Devo said geekiness is not a requirement for a volunteer post like his. “Anybody who understands how to use their cell phone and its hot spot could do it,” he asserted. “What you are doing is connecting your camera’s video to a streaming service. Then friends and family have an account with that streaming service so they can see the video. That’s really all it is.

“From where I started with this two years ago, I’ve learned that any time you start something new, it seems overwhelming. But you just have to chip away at the layers and you can do it.”

With the kinks ironed out and the broadcasts a big hit, the Coastal AV Club members were kicking back in BMOC mode when a large wrinkle arose: Qik was set to disappear in April. As the Pop Idell Tournament in Pennsylvania loomed in early April, Devo was searching for another affordable live streaming webserver. He’d narrowed the search to a service called Livestream, but was balking at the $500 price tag for the gadget that attaches to the camera and sends the video signal through a 4G relay to any device. It’s not really the money, he said. It’s the fun of solving the problem inexpensively that he’d miss.

At press time, the Coastal AV Club was working with a free, phone-based work-around, but even if they decide to splurge on the $500 Livestream device, it would be a minor expense for the currency that counts most. “I love all our players, parents, and friends,” Devo said. “At a certain point, it’s kind of a nice gift to give to them.”

Start your own live stream!

You’ll need:
- Camera with Wi-Fi or 4G connectivity, like the Sony Bloggie
- Cell phone capable of producing a 4G hotspot
- Live stream server, such as Livestream
- Back up battery for camera & cell phone
- Tripod for smooth footage

Originally published in June 2014

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