Gunn-column-logo-1This is absolutely ridiculous.

If you looked out your window last night, you know exactly what I mean.

It was April 14, and the Muskegon area got about three inches of new snow. That’s acceptable for March 14 –  sort of –  but certainly not April.

This means, my fellow Michiganders, that we’ve now had six solid months of nearly uninterrupted winter, give or take a few weeks. That’s way too much, even for a northern state.

Of course the freak snowstorm came on what was supposed to be the new unofficial opening day for spring high school sports. Local teams were actually scheduled to start competing about a month ago, but the heavy snowfall made that impossible.

So most local schools set their sights on April 14, the first day back from spring break. It seemed like a safe enough date, nearly a month after the first day of spring. The warmer temperatures from the past few weeks made us all feel like the worst had passed.

So what happens around 5 p.m. Monday, just as the teams were supposed to take the field? Flurries start falling from the sky. Then the snow became  heavier. By midnight we’re coated with a fresh new powering of about three inches, more fitting for the middle of the basketball season.

We know for sure that a few teams took the field Monday and put up with the snow and frigid wind to play baseball, softball and soccer. But every spring athlete must be wondering if they’re ever going to get the kind of weather they need to string together a complete season.

Of course, not every spring in Michigan is as horrible as this. Some years we have very nice weather by the middle of March.

But the fact remains that spring sport athletes are at a definite disadvantage in our chilly state.

In February I was traveling through the south with friends, and we stopped at a restaurant somewhere in Mississippi. We were just sitting down when a couple of kids caught my eye. They were there with their parents, dressed in little league baseball uniforms. Dirty uniforms, like they just came off the field, in February.

Kids in warmer climates get to spend many more months playing baseball, softball, tennis, golf, track and field – pretty much everything that we’re forced to squeeze into our tight spring sports schedule. It’s no wonder the southern states, as well as foreign countries with tropical climates, crank out so many more pro baseball players. It’s no wonder southern schools usually win the College World Series.

When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that we occasionally produce a Major League baseball player like Whitehall’s Nate McLouth. How he managed to compete with players who grew up in sunshine and played year round, I’ll never know.

For every McLouth, there are thousands of young Michigan athletes who have no real chance of ever playing pro ball, let along college sports. Yet they loyally sign up every year to play warm weather games in cold and uncomfortable conditions.

They suck it up and tolerate the cold and dampness, just to represent their schools and play the games they love. And they do so without much fanfare, because spring prep sports rarely garner huge crowds, probably because most fans aren’t as willing as the players to tolerate the elements.

So here’s a salute to all of our local spring athletes, who have been practicing in gymnasiums for several months while praying for the snow to melt.

Winter continues to linger, but the games will go on, because these kids wouldn’t have it any other way.