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Coaches, athletes anxious for spring

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  March 20 marked the first day of spring.

     It may not be until May when area sports teams get the opportunity to practice and compete outdoors for the first time this spring.

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     “This is my eighth year as AD and this is by far the worst that I can remember,” said Menahga athletic director Brian Johnson. “I can’t remember having this much snow on the ground this late into April. I know that our coaches and players are really itching to get outside. With the extended forecast, it still may be a week or two.”

     The prolonged winter has forced the postponement or cancellation of more than 40 Park Rapids high school and junior high sports events already. Every sport has had events postponed with more cancellations expected in the future. Having snow on the ground this late in the season is causing a headache for athletic directors, who are forced to make an already short season even shorter.

     “There is no control over Mother Nature,” said Park Rapids activities director John Schumacher. “I’m putting together a gym schedule for the fourth week of April, which is unheard of. We’re going to pack a lot of activities into a short amount of time. We want to give the kids a great experience, so we’re going to have to be as creative as we can be with scheduling. We want to get a lot of sports in, but at the same time we want to respect the educational needs of our student-athletes.”

     “The nightmare is trying to get everything in and not overextending the student-athletes,” said Johnson. “Most of the baseball and softball conference games will become doubleheaders. Conference games will take precedence over non-conference games. For golf, we may have to look at combining some 9-hole events into 18-hole events and just reducing the total number. Regarding track, we will just have to see when schools make-up their events and see if we can make it work into our schedule.”

    

Scheduling practices tough

     Park Rapids’ sports teams have been forced to be patient and share facilities.

     The track teams have been fortunate to compete in four indoor meets at Bemidji State University. The track teams have also been able to run outside a few days, but most practices have been confined to the Commons and hallways or to the weight room and swimming pool.

     The boys tennis team has had the luxury of practicing indoors at a private court. The tennis team was also able to play two matches indoors at Foley and will play another indoor match against East Grand Forks today (Wednesday).

     “We’ve been very lucky to have a private indoor court to practice in,” said Park Rapids boys tennis coach Jeff Renner. “We’re grateful for that. At least the kids get to practice on an actual tennis court.”

     Baseball and softball teams have shared the gyms while the golf teams have been stuck hitting into the nets in the wrestling room.

     “The game was not meant to be played inside, so we have to be very creative. Practicing outfield and live hitting are the hardest things to duplicate,” said Marion Goeden, who has been Park Rapids’ head fastpitch softball coach for the past 23 years. “We also have to be patient. The coaches and athletes have been really good about taking it all in stride.”

     “All the coaches say the kids have been doing a great job,” said Schumacher. “The kids are getting bored being inside and you can’t blame them. There is nowhere in the state where you can go. Everybody’s in the same boat.”

     At Menahga, finding practice facilities hasn’t been much of a problem.

     “Gym space has not been a huge issue,” said Johnson. “The track teams go down to Sebeka to practice. The baseball and softball teams share the MP room and the gym. The golf team uses the cafeteria. The golf team alternates daily with girls one day and the boys the next. Our softball and baseball coaches have been giving the varsity teams a day off here and there so that the junior high teams can get in to use the gym.”

 

Coaches, players anxious

     Everybody is anxious to get outdoors and get the season going.

     Parents and volunteers attempted to get the track, tennis courts and varsity softball field ready for play. However, more snow hindered those attempts.

     “We are so anxious to play. It has not been easy, but our players have handled this quite well. We have been using this time to develop and bond as a team and that’s fun,” said Goeden. “At this point, we are one or two nice days away from playing on our field. We can’t seem to get those two nice days. Our JV field and middle school fields are a long way from being ready. Using the Headwaters Softball Complex for our three tournaments is a long way from happening also.”

     “The morale of the kids is very high. It’s higher than I expected it to be,” said Corey Hill, who is the head coach of the Park Rapids girls track and field team. “We’ve been on the track a couple times, but otherwise we’ve been limited in what we can do. The main concern is trying to get the kids in shape while trying to prevent injuries running on hard surfaces. BSU has been a saving grace. At least we’ve had the chance to compete.”

     “The kids are as anxious to get outside as I am,” said Renner. “For the most part, the kids have been staying pretty positive.”

     “We started practice March 18. We have been hitting into the nets two nights a week for a month now. The kids are getting pretty bored with it,” said Tadd Usher, the Park Rapids boys golf coach. “The kids are just trying to stay positive. There isn’t much to do right now since the weather is not cooperating. They ask me every day when I think we will get outside and I don’t really have a good answer. I think we won’t be outside up here until the second of May.”

     “It is unfortunate. The coaches and kids are really antsy to get outside,” said Johnson. “They want to do everything they can to change the weather and get the fields ready. A positive is that they are getting a lot of time to work on the simple fundamentals of the sports, but it does not compare to being outside.”

 

Seniors lose out the most

     Having an already short season reduced has been frustrating for everyone, but especially for the senior athletes.

     “This season will go down in the history books for many schools,” said Usher. “I feel extremely bad for all spring sports and especially the seniors. Even though they are disappointed in not being outside working on the golf game, they are still growing as individuals and, most important, still having fun.”

     “I feel worse for the seniors,” said Schumacher. “This will be the class that will be remembered for the season that never was.”

 

Coaches worried about schedule

     Once the season begins, teams may be forced to play four or five times a week.

     “We always expect to play in some chilly weather in April, but I have never seen the likes of this,” said Goeden. “I’ve been trying to prepare my players the best I know how in this situation. I expect that when we do get on the field, we will have very few practices and may games bunched together. It’s hard on the players to have seven or eight games a week. It is especially hard if you only have one pitcher.”

     “Other teams might give up on the season, but we’re keeping a good attitude and looking at this as an advantage rather than a disadvantage,” said Hill.  “We’re anticipating a four-week season with the section True Team meet (on May 7) possibly being our first outdoor meet. We still have high goals for the season. We’re excited to get outside and see what we can do.”

 

Boosters feeling the hurt

     The delayed spring has also cost some Park Rapids booster clubs thousands of dollars in fundraising.

     Having two home meets cancelled will cost the track program about $2,000 in concession sales. The consolation prize is Park Rapids is hosting the Subsection 8-29A meet the end of May.

     “Losing both home meets is heartbreaking, especially for the seniors,” said Hill. “It hurts financially, but my heart goes out to the seniors more than the money we’ve lost.”

     Goeden is once again feeling the loss of important money for the fastpitch softball program.

     The Panthers schedule three home tournaments for the varsity, junior varsity and junior high every season. Two years ago, all three tournaments were cancelled because of the weather. This year, both the varsity and junior varsity tournaments could be cancelled again.

     “It definitely takes away from our booster account when we lose tournaments,” said Goeden. “I don’t know exactly what we take in. It varies, but I would guess several grand.”

     This spring may impact the Park Rapids boys and girls golf teams the most since both sports are self-sufficient. If both home tournaments can’t be held, it will cost the golf program almost $4,000 in entry fees from the participating schools.

     “We’re going to take a big hit if we can’t hold our invitational,” said Usher, whose annual meet is scheduled for May 3.

     “It’s definitely going to hurt,” said Walt Harrison, the girls coach who originally scheduled the girls invitational for April 29 and is looking for a make-up date in May.

    

Profitable solution for future

     With northern Minnesota’s annual unpredictable weather in the spring, Johnson has a simple – and profitable ­–  solution to solve this dilemma.

     “All I know is that if any area school had a bubble dome, they would be making a killing right now and probably be running the thing 24/7,” said Johnson.

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