By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Area sports fans might look at their calendars and think to themselves, “They’re usually playing high school spring sports by now.”
Then they can look out their windows and understand why the games and matches are late this year.
Under normal circumstances, most area spring sports teams would be hitting the fields for a few games before spring break.
In Muskegon County, there would have been even more early games than usual this year, due to an oddity in the calendar.
But the heavy winter snow and continued cold weather has made most scheduled activities impossible.
Local Sports Journal recently polled area high schools about the new starting date for spring sports, and the vast majority offered the same answer: “After spring break.”
For most schools, that means the bulk of the competition will begin in mid-April, almost a full month late.
According to the Michigan High School Athletic Association calendar, the official starting date for baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and track is March 19. The starting date for tennis and golf is March 17.
But most area schools won’t come anywhere close to starting in March, many games and matches will have to be rescheduled, and some contests will not be rescheduled at all, according to several athletic directors.
Whitehall athletic director Greg Russell said his school has already rescheduled two soccer matches, four baseball and softball games, one track meet and four tennis matches.
“Our fields are still covered with snow,” Russell said last week. “I feel bad for the kids. Having been a baseball coach myself, I realize that you can get a lot done inside for a few weeks, but there’s a point when you are stuck inside, you can only replicate the game so much and you have to play outside.”
The young athletes have been eager to get outdoors, even for scrimmages, according to Mona Shores athletic director Ryan Portenga.
“Everybody had cabin fever right now,” Portenga said last week. “Our soccer team got outside for the first time today, and baseball and softball are yet to get outside, except for the parking lot.
“I don’t want them to touch the soccer game field right how. With the frost line where it’s at, they’ll tear the (grass) roots up. We can’t even run the water to the bathrooms yet because of frozen pipes.”
This weekend’s warm-up could make a difference for some schools, if their fields are in good shape and teams are ready to play.
Some teams may also be able to use indoor facilities for several sports, Portenga said.
“If fields are healed, if that kind of stuff is taken care of and schools can host, people are going to want to play, just to get outside, even if it’s for just a scrimmage,” Portenga said. “But then some schools may say they are ready to play – come on over – but the visitor may not be ready yet.”
The bottom line is that most high school sports won’t get into full swing until students return from spring break.
That means different things for different schools.
In Muskegon County, spring break for all school districts will be April 7-11, which means a lot of spring sports won’t get started until the middle of the month, almost a full month late.
More games than usual will be affected by the late start, due to an oddity in the calendar.
Muskegon County schools take spring break the first full week of April. But this year March 31 is Monday, so the first full week will begin on the 7th.
That means county schools would have been playing two weeks of games and matches before spring break this year. It also means some schools will have a few more games to make up than they would have in a normal year, if they find time to make them up at all.
“We are losing a few more games than we would have if spring break had been a week earlier,” Russell said. “We had some conference games scheduled before spring break, and we’ve already had to do some rescheduling.
“Probably what will end up happening is we’ll have to cancel some non-conference games to get the conference games in. Some sports have a limit on how much you can play in a week. In soccer, for instance, you can only play three times a week, which limits flexibility in terms of rescheduling.”
Newaygo County schools, like White Cloud and Newaygo, are on the same spring break schedule as Muskegon County schools.
Schools in Ottawa County (Grand Haven, Spring Lake) and Oceana County (Hart, Shelby, Walkerville, Pentwater) will be on roughly the same schedule, with spring break including the Friday before the full week of vacation (April 4-11).
The situation is different in Mason County, which includes Ludington and Mason County Central. Their spring break is this week, so their teams should start playing regularly the week of April 7, if the weather and field conditions allow it.