Instead of bats, tennis rackets, and javelins, high school athletes are grabbing shovels and ice chippers in an effort to try and loosen winter’s unrelenting grip.
Spring sports always seem to start a little late in Maine, but the unusually high snowfall in March and even April has thrown the start of the 2001 spring season into total disarray and doubt.
“Right now it certainly is. We’ve got 26 inches on the ground right now and the last storm compacted everything,” said Caribou athletic director Dwight Hunter. “At this time, usually, we have eight inches and we’re usually out on our fields by April vacation (April 14). I’m thinking, looking at it now, we’re going to be later.”
Hunter isn’t alone. Bangor AD Steve Vanidestine said the snow still blanketing Mansfield Stadium, one of the best-draining fields in northern Maine, still measures 20 inches deep in certain places.
“There’s not much we can do. We’ve canceled all of our early [baseball and softball] contests and we’ll wait until next week to see what we can get in,” Vanidestine said. We’re supposed to open up the 21st. To be honest with you, I don’t believe we’ll play any games next week either. We haven’t canceled any yet, but it’s not looking to good.”
That goes for other New England states too. Concord, N.H., has received 26 inches above their normal 60 inches of winter snowfall.
According to Associated Press reports, snow has so disrupted high school sports schedules that New Hampshire officials are considering extending the season past graduation.
The snow has forced many area baseball, softball, track and field, and tennis teams to take a creative approach to preseason preparation.
Gary Capehart’s outdoor track team at Bangor spent Wednesday’s practice shoveling off parts of the track and field facility at Cameron Stadium off Mount Hope Avenue.
“Yeah, it’s basically ‘Bring Your Own Shovel Day,’ ” Capehart said. “We’re just trying to clear some stuff off to help the melting process along. The kids just wanted to go outside.”
New Brewer tennis coach Philip Burns has come up with some novel ways to beat lingering winter blahs and spring fever.
“One of the kids, Jesse Simko, suggested we make snowballs, so we rolled them from the middle of the court out toward the fences to get that top layer off,” Burns explained. “It was kind of fun because it was like making snowmen and it’s actually really good conditioning because those snowballs get real heavy.”
The 26 members (10 girls, 16 boys) of the Brewer tennis team have also spent time shoveling the courts, but so far, they’ve only been able to clear space from the fences to the baseline on two of the four courts.
“It’s a slow process and it’s gonna be a chore,” Burns said.
All the coaches contacted said their athletes have dealt well with the inconveniences of practicing almost exclusively indoors, but limited space and close quarters are having their effects.
“There’s a lot more congestion at the high school right now,” said Capehart.
“There’s just no room,” Burns echoed.
It hasn’t been all bad news for everyone, indoor facilities like Bangor Tennis have are selling out court time.
“Time from 2:30 to 6 p.m. is absolutely at a premium right now. I have seven teams practicing here regularly and I’ve got a schedule right now where I have at least one team in here every day,” said Dean Armstrong, general manager and part-owner of Bangor Tennis as well as Orono High’s tennis coach.
Tennis is probably the sport in the best shape right now as once the courts are clear, play can begin. Baseball and softball teams will still have to wait for their fields to dry off.
Track and field? Well, that could be a 50-50 proposition.
“We have a meet scheduled a week from Saturday [April 14] and we may have to cancel it,” Capehart said. “We might be able to run on the track, but the field events will be tough to do. I think we might have to cut out some events like the javelin because the field would be a real mess. Jumping and pole vaulting could be a problem, too.”
Although some state high school associations in New England are considering extending the season, Maine Principals’ Association executive director Dick Durost told the Associated Press that the MPA will wait to check future weather before considering delays or extensions of the season.
The stubborn snowfall is also affecting New England college and pro sports as well.
The University of Maine softball team was supposed to open its home schedule in Orono Saturday, but has switched the two doubleheaders to Philadelphia instead.
The Portland Sea Dogs have cleared Hadlock Field of snow, but water and mud remain. In an effort to sufficiently dry the field in time for Friday’s home opener, Coastal Helicopters Incorporated of Belfast is sending a helicopter to hover above the field for at least two hours Thursday evening.