Spring has not sprung

Mother Nature wreaking havoc on spring sports season

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki The Alpena High School girls softball field is just one of many area ball fields covered with snow due to the latest winter storms. The first two weeks of the spring sports season has been cancelled and it looks as if it could be a while before teams take the field.

Here we are, nearly halfway through the month of April in Northern Michigan and snow is still visible, temperatures remain low and the spring sports teams are forced to wait it out.

The first two weeks of the spring sports schedule have been canceled due to late storms and weather conditions that continue to affect the area. Athletic directors, coaches and athletes are becoming impatient and doing everything they can to stay busy so that once the teams are able to compete, they are ready.

“It’s difficult. We have been bombarded with bad weather over the past few weeks and most of the teams haven’t been able to get outside yet, and if they have, it’s been very limited to what they can do,” Posen athletic director and softball coach Wayne Karsten said.

A snow storm last weekend delayed the spring season even more and with another snow storm this weekend, the spring schedules may continue to shrink.

Athletic directors and coaches are trying to come up with different ways to get on the field, but it appears the only option for area teams to get contests in now is to travel south.

The only area team not affected by the weather is the Alpena girls tennis team which may continue to reap the benefits of the unplayable weather conditions as it has the luxury of competing in the APlex in Alpena. The girls tennis team already had one road match switched to a home contest and may have more to come in the next few weeks.

The other area sports such as baseball, softball, golf, soccer and track are not nearly as lucky.

The Alpena track teams had a meet in Davison canceled Friday and both teams spent time working together throughout the past week to shovel snow off of their track. All area track teams continue to wait and do the best they can to keep their athletes sharp for the upcoming season, but for individuals competing in certain events, it has been a challenge.

“It is extremely challenging. Our distance runners can go outside on days when the ground is somewhat dry, but it’s tough for our sprinters to go outside,” Alpena girls track coach Joy Bullis said. “You’re so limited to what you can do in a gym. You try to stay as busy as you can, but everyone is itching to get outside. I hope we can get out there soon, but in the meantime we just have to do our best with what we have.”

The Alpena boys golf team has been stuck inside so far this season and has just been working on putting until the weather warms up. Until then the Wildcats are staying focused on what they can control until they can get outside to work on other aspects of the game.

“I don’t know if we’re in the same boat as everybody else in the conference, but I think the majority of the conference is in the same boat. We still have snow and it’s really all we can do,” Alpena coach Eric Mitchell said. “It’s frustrating, but there’s no point to really dwell on it. Just do what we can do and work on getting better every single day.”

Baseball and softball teams also are forced to play the waiting game. Most fields in Alpena, Hillman, Rogers City, Posen, Alcona, Atlanta and Onaway among others are covered with snow.

Not only are the teams waiting for warm weather and a little rain to help erase some the snow, but they’re hoping it happens fast as the teams also will need to give the fields a chance to thaw out and dry before before being able to play on them.

“I’m trying to be so creative in the gym and come up with new things we can work on and do in practice. I start looking for schools down south and come across teams I’ve never even heard of to see if teams have an opening just so we can play,” Alpena baseball coach Phil Schultz said. “We’re grabbing at straws and we’re at the point now where you’re not worried about school size, we’re just trying to get on a field.”

Alpena may be able to get on the field quicker than some of the area teams as it travels further for Big North Conference play. For North Star League teams, it may be more of a challenge as a majority of the teams are within several miles of each other.

“Everyone is in the same boat and it’s a mass crunch. I’ve never seen the weather like this and just thinking about what’s going to happen and you’re constantly watching if it’s getting warmer or if it’s going to rain at some point,” Hillman Athletic Director Eric Muszynski said. “It’s hard on the coaches. No one has been outside yet other than running and hitting fly balls in the parking lot. Every school around here is dealing with it and the important thing is we have to continue working together and bounce different ideas around. You think about your program’s and it’s just amazing how bad the weather has been.”

Ideas have been thrown around and it’s possible that schedules could be cut in half if teams aren’t able to get on the field before May. This will result in a four week season resulting in three to four games a week, which will cause issues for area baseball teams. The pitch count rule will be the biggest factor as pitchers are limited to a number of pitches they can throw in a given week.

Teams also may look to use different locations around the area if fields are available to play league games.

One of the biggest disadvantages for all spring sports teams being affected by the weather is they likely will have a shortened season, meaning teams will be forced to get league contests in first, leading to teams having to drop early season competitive games against top opponents from around the state.

Teams with high expectations such as the Alpena and Rogers City softball teams and Alpena, Onaway and Hillman baseball teams already may be a month behind teams they may see later on in the postseason. Mother Nature has certainly thrown a curveball to all of the spring sports teams and it is one that has buckled knees and sat many down in disbelief.

“It’s a huge disadvantage for all of the teams up here. Everyone is likely going to be a month behind. The first time teams get outside might be just to get a game in,” Karsten said. “I remember the first week or two of previous springs having games postponed, but looking ahead and thinking an entire month of spring sports may be canceled due to the weather, that’s something I don’t ever remember happening, but it might be where we’re headed.”