Mother nature conspires against spring sports teams

Trevor Tillett lays down a bunt in front of catcher Connor Johnston during the Stillwater baseball team’s indoor practice on Tuesday at Stillwater Area High School. The Ponies were originally scheduled to open the season  on April 4, but have had seven games postponed or cancelled to date. (Gazette staff photos by Stuart Groskreutz)

Trevor Tillett lays down a bunt in front of catcher Connor Johnston during the Stillwater baseball team’s indoor practice on Tuesday at Stillwater Area High School. The Ponies were originally scheduled to open the season on April 4, but have had seven games postponed or cancelled to date. (Gazette staff photos by Stuart Groskreutz)

The weather continues as the most dominating opponent for spring sports teams still waiting to get their seasons started. With the lone exception of synchronized swimming, each of Stillwater’s nine remaining teams have had games and events postponed or cancelled because of the late thaw and recent snow — not to mention temperatures that remain in the 30s and 40s.

It’s spring weather that skiers would be envious of some years.

Ponies baseball coach Mike Parker delivers a pitch as his players work on a bunting and base running drill.

Ponies baseball coach Mike Parker delivers a pitch as his players work on a bunting and base running drill.

“I can’t ever remember it being this late,” said Stillwater Activities Director Ricky Michel, who also coached baseball for 17 seasons. “The latest I can ever remember going is April 10. Our coaches are doing a great job, but you have kids in the gyms for four and five weeks and we’re getting cabin fever.”

Michel said 42 games/events (including sophomore, JV levels) had been postponed by Tuesday and that number is expected to rise to 52 by Friday. The baseball and softball teams have each had seven games postponed or cancelled to date.

The Suburban East Conference athletic directors met on Monday to discuss ways to proceed with the shortened season and some sports have been and will be impacted more than others. In baseball and softball, for example, many of the conference games will be turned into doubleheaders. Changing to a single round-robin format for conference play was discussed, but the ADs eventually decided not to trim the number of league games at this time.

“If you haven’t already scheduled a make-up date, you’re going to see that team on the backside of a doubleheader,” Michel said. “We know it’s going to pull kids out of class and we’re not excited about that. Academically you’re going to hear it from teachers and some of the parents, but if you start cutting a significant number of games you’re going to hear it from the kids and the other parents. We’re trying our best.”

Stillwater’s Carlie Hart works on a fielding drill during the gym on Tuesday as the defending state champion Ponies softball team waits for snow to melt off its field.

Stillwater’s Carlie Hart works on a fielding drill during the gym on Tuesday as the defending state champion Ponies softball team waits for snow to melt off its field.

It’s not just a facilities issue for baseball and softball, either, as finding umpires will be a challenge once teams start rescheduling games and condensing the schedule.

“We thought it would be better scheduling doubleheaders instead of asking for more dates when everybody else is trying to schedule umpires and we can continue to get two umpires for each game,” Michel said. “You just don’t have enough baseball and softball umpires to cover it and you’re going to have varsity games with one umpire. We thought if we could get two umpires, that’s better for kids than one.”

Tennis has been impacted, but it remains the only Stillwater team to have competed outdoors this season and the Ponies will be making up most of those missed matches at some point.

Because of the number of teams involved, track meets are more difficult to reschedule, so most of those events that have not taken place will likely be lost.

Golf provides another challenge, not just because most courses have yet to open this spring, but also because many of the conference matches are hosted by private clubs which tend to open later than most public courses.

“We’re going to condense the schedule and we might have to go to nine instead of 18 (holes),” Michel said. “We’re at the mercy of the courses themselves and there are plusses and minuses to playing in a conference with some of the best courses in the metro area. They’re the nicest courses, but you’re also at their mercy and they’re doing the best they can to reschedule for later on. I think May is going to be very busy.”

Boys and girls lacrosse has also been severely impacted, but some teams in the SEC more than others. Stillwater is one of four conference schools (White Bear Lake, Forest Lake and Hastings are the others) which do not have artificial turf while Mounds View, East Ridge, Park, Woodbury, Roseville and Cretin-Derham Hall have those facilities available.

“That would make a huge difference for us,” Michel said. “From a practice standpoint, right now our gyms are filled until 10 at night and that’s not the most ideal situation. At Woodbury, Park, East Ridge and Mounds View, their practices are done by 7 p.m., but for us that’s not going to be the case. We could go into the dome and rent the facility, but in a spring like this that’s thousands of dollars and we don’t have that in the budget. Obviously turf would definitely help.”

The Minnesota State High School League issued a release on Monday lamenting the state-wide weather conditions and its impact on spring teams while also offering suggestions for dealing with issues. The MSHSL also addressed questions about potential changes that might include extending the season or changing some state tournament dates with this statement:

“Because of the current snowfall and the yet unknown weather conditions for Minnesota, questions have been asked about moving the state tournament dates farther into June. Given the number of changes that would need to be addressed at subsection, section, and state tournament sites, as well as family plans, summer jobs, camps and clinics, and other summer activities that would be conflicted, it doesn’t seem as if that’s an option that could realistically be considered.”

 

STA looking for new home

There was news this that could impact Stillwater and the Suburban East Conference in the future based on how St. Thomas Academy chooses to proceed after its pending removal from the Classic Suburban Conference.

Although some procedures need to be followed before it becomes official, the league’s athletic directors have voted to kick the Cadets out of the conference effective with the 2014-15 school year.

The SEC and South Suburban Conference, both of which currently have 10 teams, would be the logical options for STA in its search for a new home. Richfield is also leaving the CSC in 2014.

In situations like this, the MSHSL will place teams in a conference, but only after the orphaned school has applied and been turned down by at least two existing conferences. The South Suburban Conference might be a better fit geographically for the all-boys school, which can also reapply to the Classic Suburban, but STA could also target the The Suburban East. It’s no secret that Hastings and Park have expressed interest in getting out of the SEC.

Having an odd number of teams is a detriment for any conference when it comes to scheduling, especially in football where many teams have had difficulty finding nonconference opponents the past few years.

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