STATE COLLEGE — In theory, spring sports should be played outside while flowers bloom, birds chirp and the sun shines.
However, what do high school teams do when their respective fields have been consistently blanketed by snow and rain or a wintry combination of both?
“It’s been frustrating to say the least,” said Bald Eagle Area baseball coach Jim Gardner. “I keep promising the kids, as I do every year, that at some point one of these days the sun will shine and we’ll play ball. But this year I keep saying it and it’s just not happening.”
Whether it’s baseball, softball, track and field or any other sport best played while nature cooperates, everyone has been forced to adjust.
“We just keep reiterating that pretty much everyone is under the same circumstances,” Gardner said when asked how he keeps his team motivated. “It’s the teams that can prepare inside and be ready to go when the weather breaks that will be successful.”
On Monday, Huntingdon’s varsity baseball game at BEA was cancelled. Bellefonte at Tyrone was lost. State College’s boys’ varsity tennis match at Mifflin County was also cancelled.
On Tuesday, BEA at Huntingdon, Tyrone at Bellefonte and State College at Cumberland Valley in softball are all likely to be postponed. Altoona at State College in boys’ varsity tennis is another likely casualty.
Coaches have had to be creative with their time to ensure their teams are ready.
The Eagles finished 9-11 last season and and in his 13th season at the helm, Gardner returns with his entire pitching rotation intact coupled with eight returning position players.
He’s hoping that combination yields a successful season. That is if they can actually get outside.
"We go to the classroom and go over strategy, our defensive plays and philosophies on the game, which are all important to touch on,” Gardner said. “But you don’t need two weeks of in-the-classroom work,” he said with a chuckle.
Keeping high school athletes accustomed to being outdoors locked indoors for weeks, brings other problems.
“To be honest, you just have to be patient,” said State College baseball coach Bill Tussey. “The other part is just cabin fever. You just try to occasionally throw in something a little bit different to keep their minds in it.”
The Little Lions, coming off a 9-6 campaign last year, have been using Lite-Flite baseballs to simulate situations inside. The softer versions of game balls allow for some team activity, but the indoor field’s dimensions are much smaller than usual.
Tussey just hopes something translates.
“If nothing else you get them doing things as a group,” Tussey said. “But it doesn’t really simulate the game.”
While coaches must try to replicate in-game situations, administrators are charged with a different task.
Don Hosterman, Penns Valley athletic director, said postponements can sometimes cause scheduling snafus that could require teams to play three or four times a week.
Transportation can also become an issue if multiple teams need to travel on consecutive days leaving a scarcity of drivers for the school’s bus contractors to find.
Then there is the matter of clearing and caring for the fields once the weather breaks.
“A lot of teams, especially our track team, hasn’t been able to use the high jump pit or the triple and long jump pits because they were frozen,” Hosterman said. “So having this late spring has created a little problem with some of our events in the track program.”
Inclement weather, though bothersome, isn’t new to the area. And Hosterman seems to know he has little control.
“I’ve been athletic director for 27 years,” he said. “We’ve run into scheduling difficulties before and we just have to wait until the weather breaks and then get out maintenance people as soon as we can to get our fields ready.”
“Sometimes (the schedule) backs us up and we have to play three or four times a week, but we just have to deal with it. That’s all we can do.”
It’s a sentiment shared by veteran coaches who can only hope their experience will trickle down to players.
“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Tussey said. “We old folks can remember the winter of 1993. That was the year we had the blizzard. That year the whole state was shut down for the whole week so we couldn’t even get inside. It’s certainly not the first time we’ve been through this.
“The positive, if there is such a thing, is we’re all in the same boat. That’s the biggest thing, just the patience part. Nobody is getting outside right now. It’s not unusual for our first game to be our first time outside. Just have to be patient with it and don’t let it get you down to much.”