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Lingering winter delays progress for spring sports

Worthington Trojans track and field athletes run through water on a two-mile run Tuesday afternoon as snow melts onto the sidewalks. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

Spring is here!

You can ask the calendar. Go ahead. It will tell you that spring has arrived.

The robins know it. Many of them were spotted hopping happily on our lawns last week.

They’re still here, too. Except that now they’re hopping around to avoid lots of wet, dirty snow.

It’s easy to feel sorry for the robins, who arrived in Minnesota perhaps a week -- or two or three -- early. It should be easier to feel sorry for all the spring sports athletes who wish they could look outside and see green, but instead see the lingering effects of winter thanks to last weekend’s snowstorm.

It’s enough to make you want to move to Florida. Almost.

It’s been a bad winter, indeed. Bad if you don’t like cold weather and snow. And cold weather and snow continue to keep spring sports athletes practicing indoors. It threatens to shorten an already short spring sports season.

“I can’t think of a winter like this that started the quarterfinal round of our football playoffs and lasted at least for the first week of spring,” said Pipestone Area athletic director Clay Anderson this week.

Already, regular season athletic contests are being postponed. A season-opening high school baseball game between Worthington and Heron Lake-Okabena, scheduled for Thursday, was called off on Monday and moved to April 30.

Next week’s slate of games might be called off, too, said Worthington High School athletic director Josh Dale.

On Monday night, WHS hosted its Spring Sports Kickoff. But by the looks of things, the “kickoff” might have to be an actual kickoff -- like, just in time for football season.

Dale, however, takes it in stride.

“It just kind of comes with the territory. You just learn to deal with it,” he said.

In Worthington, as with most other southwest Minnesota high schools, spring sports athletes can only sniff the out-of-doors. The WHS golf team has hit a few tee shots outdoors. But as of the start of this week, the track and field team hasn’t been on the local track yet, though some of them can be seen running on area streets and drilling on the school parking lot. Baseball and softball practices have been relegated to the gym. The boys tennis team started practice on Monday, but don’t even ask about the condition of the home courts at Prairie Elementary.

In northwest Iowa, it’s a little better, perhaps. Iowans hold off on their baseball and softball seasons until the summer. But otherwise, it’s the same ol’ story for track and field and golf.

Lane Gunderson coaches both track and field and baseball for Harris-Lake Park. You wouldn’t be surprised to know that he thanks his lucky stars that he doesn’t have to worry about baseball yet. But you might be surprised to know that, even with summer baseball, practices can sometimes be a problem in this northern climate.

“I just know, myself, we have a hard-enough time getting practice under way for summer baseball, let alone having games,” Gunderson continues, pointing out that H-LP starts baseball practice in early May and games begin in late May. And summer comes late on the tundra.

“They say baseball players are the boys of summer. It’s pretty hard to play baseball when your hands are freezing cold,” Gunderson said.

Track season has been frustrating so far.

“We’ve been running in the halls,” Gunderson said.

The Wolves don’t have their own track, so to practice they mow a path to run.

As of Monday, the path was under snow.

And what about Minnesota baseball? Veteran Windom Area Eagles baseball coach Brad Schlomann urges grit.

“Just be patient. When we get outside and go, we’re gonna go. A lot of it is just being patient. Just controlling what you can control,” he cautions.

Meanwhile, Dale tosses another monkey wrench into the equation. When the weather is the enemy, and teams can’t get outdoors where they want to be and should be, he says, players can lose their enthusiasm.

“If you’re inside too long, the coaches start to lose the kids,” Dale said.

Schlomann knows what he’s talking about.

“I’m very aware of changing it up. Routine is good, but changing (practice) up to keep them fresh. We do some alternative core workouts,” said the Windom Area skipper.

But hey, there can be some advantages to fielding grounders in a parking lot.

“Like my assistant says, ‘If you can pick up a ground ball on a parking lot, you should be able to pick it up on a baseball field,” Schlomann maintains.

If, of course, the baseball field ever melts.

Regarding spring schedules, they’re still up in the cold winter air. Postponements will come, as they always do. Whether there will be more of them this year is still uncertain, though we obviously haven’t gotten off to a good start.

As Anderson says, the first games to go are the non-conference games. And then the conference games.

“It’s a big headache.”

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

(507) 376-7328
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