For high school athletes, coaches and athletic directors, the delinquent spring of 2018 has gone from tolerable annoyance to a real pain in the agenda.
Last weekend’s snowstorm further crippled a sports season that had barely gotten rolling. While a few teams have been able to squeeze in a game or meet, most have been idle, passing most of April with improvised indoor practices and outdoor playing surface maintenance. Athletic directors are scrambling to secure precious practice time at indoor domes.
Hundreds of baseball and softball games and boys’ tennis matches have been cancelled and will not be made up. There’s no clear sign of when grass ballfields will be playable. While sunny or rainy weather will help melt snow, there’s still the need to thaw frozen ground and dry it out.
“I don’t think the frost will be out in Prior Lake until at least the week of May 7,” Prior Lake athletic director Russ Reetz said. “The fields will need to harden before we can paint lines for [lacrosse] and actually play baseball and softball.”
Golfers, at the mercy of still-closed golf courses, have settled in for a lengthy wait. Even lacrosse, which rarely cancels games because of weather, has seen its share of postponements. Some schools with turf fields have been reluctant to use snow removal equipment because of concerns of voiding warranties.
The Hamline Elite Meet, the most prestigious high school track and field meet of the season, has adapted its entry policies for the April 27 meet. The meet typically accepts only athletes who have posted the best marks of the season, but because of the weather, meet officials are accepting results from 2017.
All the while, school athletic directors are stretching their budgets and spending countless hours trying to secure indoor practice facilities and dependable transportation to transport athletes there.
“I wake up every day and feel like I’m in a Southwest Airlines commercial: ‘Want to get away?’ ” Reetz joked.
Many indoor domes/bubbles, teeming with teams coming and going for practices, are committed to giving priority to their local school district and what little time they have left is already filled.
“Every hour, every minute that we have any space available is being used,” said Dr. Bill Wenmark, who manages facilities at Minnetonka High School. “We’re at the max.”
The inflatable dome at the Plymouth Creek Center in Plymouth was scheduled to be taken down Friday, but weather conditions made it impossible to remove safely. It will stay up for at least two more weeks, giving nearby schools a respite from the conditions outdoors. But it, too, is booked.
“We’re depending on the cooperation of schools and athletic directors to share it,” facilities manager Chris Fleck said. “And it’s not just schools. Athletic associations are looking for time, too. We have to balance their needs.”
While certainly helpful, domes are not the whole solution. Inflatable domes in Vadnais Heights and Faribault collapsed under the weight of the weekend snows. Others had already been taken down when the storm hit.
“The [Vadnais Heights] dome collapsing took our situation from manageable to unmanageable,” said Brian Peloquin, director of student activities at White Bear Lake. “We have to be more flexible with our gym space and we’re discussing creative ways to help Mother Nature with the melt.”
With section playoffs in boys’ tennis and softball less than a month from beginning, many conferences have scrapped large portions of their schedules and are making modifications to the remainder, such as playing doubleheaders.
“We had a conference showcase set for this weekend, bringing the softball and baseball teams together on one site, but we’ve had to cancel that,” said Providence Academy AD Rick Johns, whose school competes in the Independent Metro Athletic Conference. “Our conference basically blew out the first half of the season and we’ll go with doubleheaders in softball the rest of the way.”
The idea of making up games on Sundays has been floated, but the Minnesota State High School League has said it won’t approve Sunday games. Last week the league approved a temporary rule change giving baseball and softball teams the option of playing 5-inning doubleheaders to help make up postponed games.
Still, in the spirit of the “bold north’’ promotion of the recent Super Bowl, many stress positivity this snowy spring.
“Our kids and coaches have been phenomenal in their flexibility and positive attitude while mostly practicing indoors,” St. Paul Washington Tech activities director Jeanne Kranz said. “It’s a GREAT season to be a badminton fan!”