Rochester Mayo athletic/activities director Jeff Whitney keeps his school’s sports schedules in a handy, easy-to-read, single-page format on his desk. When an event is postponed because of bad weather, he marks it in red. You can guess at the appearance of his paperwork during this cold, wet spring of 2011.
“It looks like I’ve spilled ketchup all over my schedule,” Whitney said Wednesday. “We’ve postponed 12 events in the last five days.”
From Rochester to Marshall, from Crookston to the Iron Range, from the Twin Cities to all corners of Minnesota, the theme of spring sports is the same: Cold, wet and waiting. Practices for softball and track began March 14 and other outdoor spring sports fell into line later in March, but rotten weather all over the state has put almost everything on hold. Some examples:
--If Thursday’s weather cooperates, Hibbing High School’s baseball and softball teams will play their first home games of the spring; the track, golf and tennis teams have yet to compete at home, and the road schedules have not been much better.
--In the week that ended Wednesday, teams from the varsity level on down at Farmington High School had seen 44 events cancelled or postponed. Baseball and softball games against Northfield had been postponed once, were postponed again Wednesday and the teams will make a third attempt to play on May 9.
--In Thief River Falls, the baseball and tennis teams have played once, the softball team has played two games and the track teams are still waiting for their first competition. In the past week, 35 events have been postponed or cancelled. One exception was a boys tennis match at Moorhead, which was played Tuesday in 41 degrees on dry courts surrounded by snow.
--Teams at Marshall High School have been practicing on parking lots while waiting to play games. The baseball and softball teams have only played once, with a total of seven games rescheduled. Two track meets have been called off and will not be rescheduled, one golf tournament has been cancelled and another postponed.
In other words, it’s getting ugly out there.
“Mother Nature has given us a little wake-up call,” said Hibbing athletic/activities director Tim Scott. “But our people are pretty good at improvising, even if it means the first time our kids catch a fly ball it might be in our first game.”
With the weather taking a turn for the worse in the last week, and this being Easter week, rescheduling some events can be nearly impossible. Many schools are closed late this week with no activities scheduled … or rescheduled.
Adding to the spring uncertainty are the weather forecasts. Southern Minnesota got snow on Tuesday into Wednesday, but the worst of the snow didn’t materialize as far north as some predicted. A large track meet scheduled at Farmington on Tuesday was called off early Tuesday, even though the weather turned out to be not as bad as predicted.
“We had to think about the number of kids coming, where the schools are the, release times and other things,” said Farmington athletic/activities director Jon Summer. “We made that decision fairly early in the morning when we were looking at the forecast. One of the challenges of being an AD is everyone kind of has different guidelines in how and when you make that decision. And it’s hard. The AD side of me is thinking of the headaches of rescheduling, but in the end you want to walk out the door feeling that you did the right things for kids and health and safety.
“Sometimes people expect ADs to be better weather forecasters than the professional weather forecasters. When I was working on my master’s degree in sports management, I never took a class where I needed to read a Doppler radar.”
A year ago, excellent spring weather arrived in early March and cooperated all the through the completion of the seasons. Rochester Mayo’s Whitney only had to reschedule seven spring events in 2010.
In 2011, however, spring teams all over Minnesota are making use of indoor practice space, which can mean gymnasiums as well as hallways. Mayo is a “round” school, and athletes can run five laps around the building to cover a mile. That also means, however, that teachers exiting classrooms and custodians pushing carts have to keep an eye out for fast-moving students.
In Thief River Falls, there is a plethora of outstanding outdoor athletic facilities as well as Ralph Engelstad Arena for hockey teams. “But when it comes to indoor stuff, we are really, really short,” said athletic/activities director Mike Biermaier.
A middle school track meet was scheduled for Monday, with members of the high school track team helping run the meet. But weather killed the event, meaning 90 middle school athletes and 80 varsity athletes needed indoor space to practice. Biermaier and others scrambled.
“We couldn’t be outdoors, so we sent 25 kids to Ralph Engelstad Arena to work out with Tim Bergland, our boys hockey coach,” Biermaier said. “We put 50 or 60 kids in the pool, we put more in the middle school gym and others in the high school gym. We had them everywhere.”
The baseball and softball teams had to wait their turns, using the indoor spaces when the track athletes were finished.
Some schools have more indoor options, including Crookston High School. The Pirates can work out at the Crookston Sports Center, which opened last year. The center has three full-size ice rinks, with one covered by artificial turf this time of year.
“It’s getting a lot of use,” said Crookston athletic/activities director Don Donarski. “We’ve been very fortunate. Our baseball, softball and golf teams have been making great use of it. It’s incredible and it’s taken a lot of pressure off our gym.”
As the cancellations and postponements pile up, the odds of playing a full season grow longer. May will soon arrive, followed by the end of the regular season and the onset of playoffs. If the weather does ever return to normal (cross your fingers), teams may be jamming a lot of games into a very short time frame.
“We’re coming to the realization that we’re not going to be able to reschedule everything,” Biermaier said. “Percentage-wise, I would say more than half of our games that have been postponed will not be rescheduled.”
Marshall athletic/activities director Bruce Remme said, “You come down to about a three-week season when you get to May. You just cram it in.”
Farmington’s varsity baseball team has games scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday next week and a tournament on Saturday.
“Pretty much everybody on the team better be able to throw some strikes,” said Summer.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 593
*Miles John has driven: 8,944
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