Waiting on the Weather

While spring has officially sprung, area sports teams are seeing a lot more gym ceilings and hardwood floors than blue skies and grassy fields.

It’s a problem that teams in this part of the state face most years, but it never gets any easier for the student athletes, coaches and administrators that have to deal with lingering winter weather. With feet of snow still covering the fields, courts and tracks, along with an estimated four-plus feet of frost trapped within the ground, teams will be lucky if they get outside for a full practice before the second week of April. That’s an issue when scrimmages have already begun and games, matches and meets are set to begin at the end of March.

“I was a little pessimistic when we received the baseball and softball schedules that start March 31,” Fort Plain athletic director Charlie Karker said. “That didn’t seem real to me that we would be able to do that in any particular given year.”

A series of snow and ice storms have left fields unplayable and forced athletes that need reps outside – back indoors. For schools with smaller facilities, that is not an easy thing to deal with.

“Our gym time here in Amsterdam is at a premium, and unfortunately I’ve got teams that are practicing up to 9:30-10 p.m., which is not what I want for any of the kids,” Amsterdam athletic director Randy Hutto said. “We are able to get our lacrosse team out onto the turf, so that has relieved a little bit of pressure as far as our scheduling with the gym, but it is extremely difficult.”

Gloversville has much more indoor practice space and athletic director and baseball coach Mike DeMagistris said the kids are usually home to do their homework before 7 p.m. Despite their good fortune in that area, an inability to practice sports like baseball and softball outdoors comes with a whole host of challenges.

“We have to be creative to keep kids interested because it can get very dull, boring and monotonous in the gym,” DeMagistris said. The coaches are trying to keep things fresh and trying to create as many game-like situations in the gym as possible.”

One of the biggest issues facing baseball and softball players is the difference between pitching, hitting, fielding ground balls and shagging pop flies indoors versus in a true outdoor setting where hops, depth perception and weather factors come into play.

“How many ground balls do you see take bad hops in a gymnasium? None,” said Johnstown athletic director Jim Robare. “Once you get outside you have to do all the catch-up work. All of a sudden you have to be competitively ready to play, and physically, sometimes you’re not.”

DeMagistris echoed those sentiments.

“It’s different fielding a ground ball off the gym floor and tracking a fly ball 30 feet in the gym that isn’t thrown very high, to something where they might have to run down a fly ball that’s hit in the gap or a hard ground ball that’s hit at them and they’re not used to the hop,” said DeMagistris.

Mayfield athletic director Eileen Rovito said that all of the factors listed above contribute to a decline in performance at the beginning of the season.

“It’s definitely a disadvantage and I think our spring sports aren’t as strong because of it,” said Rovito. “The kids don’t get the opportunity and the time. Some schools have the means to send their kids down south to get onto turf or grass, but these small schools up here in the north country don’t usually get to do that.”

Even as the snow melts away and the grass begins to show, there is a delicate balance when it comes to determining how acceptable the playing conditions actually are. The frost in the ground makes for a hard surface that simply isn’t safe for kids to play on. Administrators, coaches and grounds people work in unison to decide when to let the teams head outdoors, and that won’t happen until a streak of warm weather hits.

“The head coaches are always itching to get on the field and we have to do all we can to keep them off the field,” Robare said.

Area track teams face a different set of challenges. Finding places to run is a little bit easier, but the cold is often tough to deal with. Karker said that the wind on the hill where Fort Plain practices makes it difficult for kids to find proper attire to run in.

Eric Wilson, the athletic director at Fonda-Fultonville, said the track team has been outside a little bit, but has mostly taken to running through the halls of the high school.

Scheduling conflicts have already begun for some schools. A baseball scrimmage between Johnstown and Mayfield has been rescheduled and a lacrosse scrimmage for the Sir Bills has also been pushed back. Gloversville’s first baseball game of the season, originally scheduled for April 4 against Amsterdam, has been moved to the end of the season. Softball scrimmages between Mayfield and Broadalbin-Perth are currently up in the air.

Karker pointed out how rescheduling games this time of year is made even more hectic due to yearly events such as senior trips, musical concerts and proms.

“Right now, we’re okay but with what we have for now and possibilities of more coming I think in the next couple of weeks it’s going to be crazy,” Wilson said.

With early mention of a possible nor’easter making it’s way toward the East Coast, things could get even trickier. For now, the only thing student athletes and local residents can do is hold their breath.