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Winter weather puts deep freeze on spring sports season

UPDATED: Wed., March 13, 2019

John Petrofski and neighbors clear snow from their sidewalks along Tekoa Avenue on Spokane’s South Hill, Tues. Feb. 12, 2019. Area schools don’t have the option to clear sports fields, courts and tracks in a similar fashion. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
John Petrofski and neighbors clear snow from their sidewalks along Tekoa Avenue on Spokane’s South Hill, Tues. Feb. 12, 2019. Area schools don’t have the option to clear sports fields, courts and tracks in a similar fashion. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A well-known American writer once said, “While everyone talks about the weather, nobody seems to do anything about it.”

The quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, but more likely it was Charles Dudley Warner in an editorial for the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant in 1897.

Regardless, the high school sports scene in Eastern Washington and North Idaho feels the pain of the author.

After a mostly mild winter, the region was hit hard by snow and brutal cold starting in early February, disrupting and postponing the winter sports tournaments with hazardous driving conditions throughout the state.

After a brief respite, another round of snow dumped more on top of compacted and frozen fields, essentially canceling the first couple of weeks of spring sports.

It’s enough to drive an athletic director a little crazy.

“Are you going to use a picture of the ADs crying?” Lewis and Clark athletic director and girls golf coach Michelle Grafos asked.

“It’s tough. The last few weeks of basketball – then to add this on top of it. We’re in our third week of spring sports and haven’t done anything outside yet.”

Grafos’ frustration was echoed across the region, as spring sports participants have been squeezed into gyms and indoor facilities since practice started Feb. 25.

“It’s been tough to find indoor practice time for 450 kids,” Mt. Spokane AD Paul Kautzman said.

“My office overlooks Mount Spokane, so I can sit here and watch the snow not melting on my fields.”

Kautzman said he hasn’t even seen the worst of it across the region. He estimated they got roughly 8-12 inches in the first storm, then another 3-4 inches in last week’s addition and a couple of more in Tuesday’s blast.

Some parts of North Idaho still have more than 2 feet of snow and ice covering the field, courts and tracks.

“We’re looking forward to next week’s higher temperatures,” Kautzman said. “We’re holding out hope to get outside before spring break (the first week of April).”

Spokane district schools have shoveled the top layers of snow off of tennis courts and running tracks using plastic or rubber-coated shovels, but some school districts won’t allow clearing because of the court surfaces.

Robert Brunn, the veteran boys tennis coach at Lake City, said he’s waiting like everyone else.

“We’ve worked out at Peak (Fitness) a few times. It’s just tough until the snow melts,” he said. “We have spring break next week and we hope to be able to see pavement next week to play on.”

Brunn added that Lewiston usually has a few weeks’ head start on the Kootenai County schools, but it was hit as hard as the northern counties this year.

“We’re anxious to get out there and start hitting,” he said. “We’ve got (the team) running in the hallways, hitting off the gym walls. It’s my job to keep them focused while we’re stuck inside.”

Kautzman said he’s been rotating teams through the gym, trying to keep everyone active. They’ll have groups practice at 6 a.m. and go until 9 p.m.

A side benefit of the Wildcats’ boys and girls basketball teams reaching the 3A title games: The baseball team traveled to support the basketball teams and found a field to practice on while in Tacoma.

Kautzman estimated a good amount of melting with next week’s temperatures expected in the 50s, but because of saturation he doesn’t expect Mt. Spokane’s fields will be safe until after spring break, the first week of April.

The one sport the Greater Spokane League has started is boys soccer.

Rogers AD Aaron Brecek is the league’s soccer coordinator. In conjunction with the Merkel Sports Complex in Northwest Spokane, he’s restructured the schedule to accommodate league play.

“Merkel is the city’s property,” he said. “They’ve been keeping it clear the whole time and have been using it all winter.”

Shadle Park and North Central use Merkel for practices, so Brecek and the other league administrators brainstormed how best to use the facility.

“We got together in our preseason meeting and set up a schedule so all five Spokane (district) schools could practice,” he said.

After the deep freeze, they took the next logical step.

“Instead of us just using it for practice, we agreed to get our varsity games in,” he said.

With two fields available at Merkel, the GSL has played two games per night as much as possible in an effort to keep as close to the normal schedule as possible.

Brecek said they haven’t been playing any junior varsity or C games, though, and that won’t happen until the fields at Joe Albi Stadium or Gonzaga Prep would be available.

“Worst-case scenario is we’re stuck at Merkel all season,” Brecek said.

Although the turf fields at Merkel are rock-hard and temperatures in the evenings have been in the mid-20s, he hasn’t heard any of the players complaining about the conditions.

“They’re just happy to be out there,” he said. “They’re bundling up and doing what they can to get out there.”

Other leagues don’t have that option. Medical Lake, a member of the Northeast A League, has 10 games scheduled over 16 days in April because of postponements, typical across the region. Some leagues might not get all their league games in.

Brecek said his other Rogers teams are practicing in gyms, indoor tennis facilities and indoor batting cages.

“Our coaches are so good at working within the parameters available and there hasn’t been a problem,” he said. “They’re just making do with what we have.”

“This has been the extremely frustrating,” Grafos said. “It’s a constant rescheduling and trying to find ways to keep kids engaged and do it safely. We all want to provide a good opportunity for the kids, but it’s been challenging.”

“We’re doing as best we can to prepare them, and we’re hopeful to get them into game situations soon.”

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