Having run track when I was in high school, I have a soft spot for spring sports. It's these athletes who really do get the shaft in terms of a good season. The length of the season is only a couple of months, and the first part of the season is always tentative at best.
Mother Nature jumped up this week and showed us she is always in charge with a batch of lousy weather. It's just about the middle of April and we got snow, freezing rain and sleet. With it came a bunch of cancellations for spring sports.
So what happens with the spring sports? They were canceled. What will happen the rest of the year? In many cases there will be extra games in a week, as they try to cram the missed events into the few holes in the schedule.
The winter sports saw their own batch of cancellations this year, but when they reschedule they are inside. Spring sports might reschedule smack dab in the middle of another cold stretch. It's a hazard of the season.
When trying to fit all the games, meets and matches into about eight weeks, there isn't a lot of time when you consider you still need rest days - and the student-athletes need to be students right at the end of the school year.
That's not to say they don't compete in less-than-ideal weather conditions. Cold, wind, and even rain aren't uncommon conditions. It's hard to pitch in cold, windy weather. Muscles that need to reaction quickly or for any extended length of time can and do get aggravated when the weather is cold. But this is northern Michigan and we all know what we are up against.
My freshman year our first track meet was at Kalkaska, which had a clay track (remember, this was the 1970s, so not that many schools had asphalt tracks). By the end of the meet, everyone who competed was caked in muddy clay. Then we had to pile on the bus for the trip home. Thankfully it was only 13 miles.
Another time we ran in a full-on snow in Elk Rapids. It wasn't a storm, but it was a lot more than just flurries.
Bundled up athletes is the norm during the spring, especially in April - though May can be just as aggravating sometimes. It's a common site to see track athletes in sweats and winter coats sitting under blankets. Think about that for a moment and then consider they have to take off the warm clothing and run in their shorts and tank tops. It can give you a chill down your spine just thinking about it.
Baseball and softball players can do a lot of standing around while they are in the field of competition. Aside from the pitcher and catcher, there are times the fielders don't move aside from hopping around or moving side to side just keep loose and warm. During games where the weather is cold and the wind is blowing, you should take a look in the dugouts. More bundled up players.
Whereas fall sports go from the warm toward cold, the spring sports don't get the benefit of transitioning. Both seasons have their issues to face, the difference is that with fall sports all the teams in the state are in the same boat. They all go from the end of summer warm to cold. In the spring, the teams downstate are outside practicing and playing sometimes two full weeks longer than those teams up north. It can make for a huge difference.
Teams from the north that are successful and make long playoff runs have overcome more than their downstate peers. And take a look around, we have lots of spring sports that are successful. It speaks well of the athletes and coaches.
So this spring, if you notice a local team is playing at home, go support these athletes as they brave the cold. Just don't forget your hat, gloves and winter coat just to be safe. It is northern Michigan after all.