The Alpena boys basketball team has earned some impressive wins this season, beating the likes of Petoskey, Cadillac and Elk Rapids.
The Wildcats' toughest opponent however has been Mother Nature.
With periods of snowfall, ice and bone-chilling cold, Alpena (6-1) has had eight of its dates canceled already this season and is in the middle of a nine-day stretch of not playing.
Teams in northern Michigan are used to dealing with the elements during the winter sports season, but Alpena coach John Pintar said this is the worst stretch he's seen in 20 years of coaching.
"It's not even close. I want to say I've seen 3 or 4 games total (canceled in a season)," Pintar said. "One of our parents told me we're 6-1-8. It's creating a difficulty to maintain some semblance of playing."
Alpena's last game was last Tuesday at Ogemaw Heights and the Wildcats have had three games canceled since then. Alpena was scheduled to host Traverse City Central last Friday, but the game was canceled and rescheduled for the next day. That date was also canceled due to weather conditions and will be made up on Thursday. The Wildcats also had a Monday game at Gaylord canceled as well as a home game on Tuesday against Harbor Springs.
The layoff has been frustrating for the Wildcats who will likely face a tough 13-game grind before district play begins in March. Pintar said Alpena will play three games a week during two of the next four weeks and still has Tuesday's cancellation with Harbor Springs to make up as well.
"At some point it's going to be a grind. At this point our guys aren't concerned with that," Pintar said. "If I told them we had a game every night, they'd probably be happy."
In the meantime, the Wildcats have done what they can to simulate game conditions in practice. A few days ago they held a best-of-5 tournament and they've been doing their best to prepare for whatever opponent comes next.
Some local teams have been lucky enough to get past the halfway point in their schedules even with some canceled dates. The Hillman and Rogers City boys teams have played 11 games each and the Posen and Onaway girls basketball teams have played 12 games each.
The majority of teams though still have between 9-12 games to play and are hopeful no more obstacles pop up so as not to put extra pressure on student athletes.
"I feel like it's going to be three games a week from here on out. You have to balance what's best for the student athlete," Alcona Athletic Director Dan O'Connor said. "You want them to have opportunities (for sports), but you also want them to succeed in the classroom too."
Alcona has been one of the few schools in the area to hold games this week. The Alcona girls basketball team played at Fairview on Monday and will host Oscoda today. The Alcona boys basketball team hosted Fairview on Tuesday and the Atlanta and Rogers City girls basketball teams hosted games on Monday as well.
O'Connor said the biggest challenge that comes with canceling and rescheduling games is making sure everyone involved in the process is on the same page. Superintendents and athletic directors work together to make decisions on whether or not games will be played, but if a game is canceled and rescheduled, the host school must make sure officials, custodians and other staff is on hand.
"Texts and e-mail have made communication very easy, but there's lots of different pieces of the puzzle," O'Connor said. "You try and keep everyone in the loop."
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.