The winter sports season has come and gone and area schools are now preparing for the spring sports season.
However, snow fall and cold temperatures remain persistent throughout the area. Many sports fields are under several inches to a foot of snow and ice, making it impossible for teams to practice properly and making a prompt start to the season highly unlikely.
"(The fields are) packed under about 15 inches of snow. And that's just it, that's the issue. It's packed snow," Alpena High Athletic Director Tim Wedge said. "It's not just light fluffy snow that you can blow off with a blower. Its really packed down."
News Photo by Eric Benac
Although some grass is starting to show through the snow at Alpena High School’s softball field on Tuesday afternoon, it, the baseball field, Wildcat Stadium’s field and the surrounding parking lots are still nearly covered by up to a foot of snow. Many area fields are under a similar snow cover. The spring sports season is scheduled to start next week locally, though the weather could delay games.
The temperatures for this coming week are predicted to be in the upper 30s to low 40s. This is an improvement over the sub-zero temperatures from earlier this year, but isn't enough to melt much snow.
Even worse, temperatures are predicted to maintain this chilly range or drop even lower over the coming weeks. Light snow storms are also expected.
"This is the most snow we've had around here in quite a while. The biggest problem is that winter doesn't seem to want to let go. Every night it drops below freezing," Hillman Athletic Director Ray Selesky said. "It's supposed to get cooler again soon, with below normal temperatures. Its going to be hard to get those fields snow free."
"This is the most snow we've had around here in quite a while. The biggest problem is that winter doesn't seem to want to let go. Every night it drops below freezing. It's supposed to get cooler again soon, with below normal temperatures. Its going to be hard to get those fields snow free."
- Hillman athletic director Ray Selesky
Even if the temperature suddenly jumped to 70 degrees, the snow wouldn't melt overnight and if it did, the water would stay saturated in the fields for at least a week, further delaying play.
It's a frustrating situation, but there's not much anybody can do about it. Affordable powered snow removal isn't an option when sports fields are so heavily inundated with snow. Plowing can seriously damage a soft, wet field. Other solutions, such as snowblowing can lead to even more severe problems.
"Some schools raised their snowblower two or three inches off their track and got rid of the snow that way," Wedge said. "The problem with this is that this leaves the track exposed to the elements and can cause it to buckle."
Paradoxically, the slightly warmer temperatures over the past few weeks have actually led to ice build up under the snow. This occurs when the snow melts during the warmth of the day, pools underneath the remaining snow and freezes during the night.
Hillman has relied on the efforts of its janitorial and maintenance staff to shovel away at least some of the snow and ice build up, but its slow, difficult work that doesn't yield that much success.
"There isn't much you can do, but go at it slowly, use shovels and maybe a pick axe to break up the snow and ice," Selesky said. "They've tried the tractor, but there's too much ice build up where its been melting and freezing at night."
Schools aren't just waiting for the grass to be snow free and dry. There is a lot more that goes into preparing for the spring sports season and Alpena groundskeeper Kevin Mousseau has watched the prolonged winter condition destroy precious weeks of field preparation time.
Normally, he and his crew start preparation a few weeks before the first game of the season. But, a foot of snow is still lurking on the baseball and softball fields and parking lot and games are scheduled for next week.
"Its going to be a mad rush to get everything ready. There's a lot to (preparing fields)," he said. "When the snow melts, the fields have got to be broomed. We gotta put the player benches out, the garbage cans and the picnic tables. Then, we get the sprayer running. There's just a lot of things that go into it that make a difference."
Many area athletic directors are admitting the inevitability of canceled or rescheduled games and the strain that this could put on the athletes and coaches.
"There's going to have to be some creative revision of the schedule. But, you have to watch out for the athletes' needs," Alcona Athletic Director Dan O'Connor said. "They have to be students and sending them to play games three or four times a week is not good for them."
Many non-conference games or tournaments may have to be canceled out right in order to make room for rescheduled conference games.
In the meantime, teams practice in the gym and get outside when the weather permits. The Hillman baseball and softball teams do some drills in the school parking lot, while the track team runs, throws and jumps outside whenever possible.
Teams may be able to exercise and practice vital precision drills in the gym and in parking lots, but they can't run game drills that simulate game conditions.
"You're just limited with what you can do inside. We're sticking to our three gyms and the parking lots for now and hoping that temperatures start increasing so that we can work our way out to the fields," O'Connor said. "Our teams are heading south for the first few weeks of the season, so I think we're going to be able to play, despite having no time out on the field."
For now teams are forced into a tedious waiting game. And while warmer weather is inevitable at some point down the road, it will take a lot of hard work until then to make up for lost time.
"Everybody is scrambling around trying to find a plan for spring. Once the snow melts and we're able to get on the fields, we'll be in better shape," Wedge said. "It'll be tough, but our maintenance crew do a good job. Kevin is great and I know he will have the fields ready as quickly as possible."
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.