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Local prep sports teams get put on ice

Josh VanDyke • Apr 18, 2018 at 10:26 PM

April showers are expected this time of year, with possible weather delays and postponements part of the accepted deal that comes with playing during the spring season.

But when those rain showers turn into ice and snow storms, the schedule, along with the playing fields, can get washed away.

That's the current state of the prep sports scene in West Michigan, as athletic departments, coaches, players and parents are left scrambling during an already compressed spring sports season.

"I've been an athletic director for 12 years, and I can't remember going through something this strange," said Grand Haven athletic director Scott Robertson. "We've had some late starts to the season before due to snow still being on the ground in late March, but dealing with snow and ice storms in the middle of April is new to me.

"We are at the mercy of something we can't control, so it's a frustrating situation. We're hoping to get games in by the end of the week, but there was snow in the forecast Wednesday night, so we just have to wait it out and see what the field conditions are like the next few days."

The biggest challenge facing Robertson and administrators across the area is attempting to reschedule games with only a one-month time frame to work in regular season games.

"The MHSAA state championships in each sport aren't movable, because they have to reserve those venues well in advance," added Robertson. "So, we have to make the most of the regular season schedule we have left, and that might mean canceling non-conference games.

"It's a shame because we are really shorting the kids by not allowing them to play a full schedule of games. Now, we might have to move on from some traditional non-conference games, because we need to play league games in order to have a true conference champion in each sport."

Rescheduling games isn't an easy art, either. With all schools in scramble mode, the ability to move games around becomes a crapshoot.

"Just because you have an open date on the calendar doesn't mean another school you're trying to reschedule with has that same opening," Robertson said. "Everyone is trying to move things around right now, so there's a lot of moving pieces and we're just trying to fit as many games in as we can in a finite time frame."

While trying to put the game scheduling puzzle pieces together with one hand, Robertson is also trying to figure out transportation and practice schedules with the other.

"We're also trying to figure out a schedule that allows all of our teams to practice when they don't have games," Robertson added. "Some teams aren't able to practice outdoors right now, so it's a very fluid situation.

"We also have limits on our transportation scheduling, so that's another thing we are trying to work out on the fly."

LUCKY LAKERS

For Spring Lake softball head coach Bill Core, the inclement weather picked the best possible stretch in their schedule to show up.

"It's been the best week we could have chosen to deal with this because it was a bye week for us in the conference schedule," he said. "We were supposed to have a doubleheader with Fruitport on Wednesday, but we had to move that to April 30. We have lucked out that we didn't lose any conference games during this stretch, but I know we are in the minority in that regard."

Despite the lucky break in the league schedule, the process of finding new games after losing a large tournament last weekend has been problematic, to say the least.

"Scheduling has been a nightmare," Core added. "We have four games to make up after losing last Saturday's tournament, and I was on the phone all weekend and a few days this week trying to find four more games. People are in a panic because their athletic directors are telling them they can't schedule non-conference games right now, and everyone wants to get their 38-game limit in before the playoffs start."

Core's squad is always lucky in regards to roster depth and talent, allowing him to be much more flexible when trying to find make-up dates.

"We really have the luxury of throwing out three different pitchers, with Leah Vaughan and Lauren Somers as our regular starters and Madelyn Nelson as a third option," he added. "If I only had one pitcher, I might be more selective with what dates I try and fill to avoid throwing too many games together and exhausting our rotation. With three quality pitchers, I can pretty much just be open to whatever the other teams can work out."

Despite the lucky streak, the Lakers, like many softball and baseball teams, might be the unluckiest in terms of field conditions.

"We don't know when our fields are even going to be ready to play on," Core added. "We've had fog days and power outages before, but never snow days in April. A lot of soccer and lacrosse teams have turf fields now, so they just need the snow to melt and they can pretty much get back into action. We are much more at the mercy of the weather.

"We need the rain to melt the snow, but then the baseball and softball fields can get soupy and unplayable. So, we are at a disadvantage in that regard. There's an extra step for us to clear before we are able to get back out there."

In the meantime, the Lakers have enjoyed some creative indoor practices to keep them sharp in preparation for a busy schedule moving forward.

"The key for us has been keeping the indoor practices fun and creative," Core added. "We don't want to keep doing the same things every day. That has allowed us to focus on the little things like how to get out of a rundown situation, extra work on bunting and proper leadoffs. It's been an unprecedented thing to deal with in my 30 years as a softball coach, but we're trying to make the most of it."

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