THIS + THAT: Mud season interferes with spring sports’ opening day

One of the greatest reasons to live in Vermont or New Hampshire is the fact both states have four distinctly beautiful seasons. Having made that statement, whether one fully accepts those words is partially dependent upon where such person sits. If one happens to be either a spring sports’ coach or an athletic director, such individuals may tend to completely disagree.

I have been fortunate enough during my years on this wonderful planet to coach at one level or another, during each of the four seasons. Having said this, I will tell you with no uncertain terms, the spring season is one glorified headache almost from beginning to end.

In all my years, I have never seen anyone master the indoor practice. Obviously there are a number of sports in the spring; but regardless, with the one or ones I am referring to, to properly train indoors is impossible. There are some coaches in some sports who have been incredibly creative and have given their athletes some type of advantage with their thinking out of the box, but inside preparation holds back so many skills in so many ways.

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Mud season interferes with the beginning of the spring season’s opening outdoor games. Stock photo.

This is also the season that so many relationships in the athletic realm are strained in so many ways. The chess game that plays out between athletic directors and coaches and groundskeepers each spring is one of misunderstanding, lack of knowledge, and hard headedness. It is close to impossible to develop an effective system of communication between those entities that keeps people happy.

Obviously whether one is a coach or an athletic director – or just has the cabin fever we all get – the urge to get teams outside can drive those beings over the edge. I am just letting you know some of the reasons why spring is a difficult time of year for area athletics.

Before putting this subject to bed, having been a coach, I would like to take a second to defend athletic directors and ground keepers – especially some of those groundskeepers who have taken the time over the years to study fields and the absolute best way to prep your playing surfaces for the spring season. All they can do is prepare the space the best they can and their decisions should be respected just like a coaches who use the right strategy in a game that happens to go the wrong way. We all know second-guessing runs rampant throughout sports in New England, so why wouldn’t it be the same here?

Before becoming more specific about each area school’s spring predicament in 2018, I will give an annual plea for you to understand that being an athletic director can be a enjoyable and rewarding job; but regardless of what you may think, it is not an easy, cushy job at all. It is a tough job.

I point to one spring example before moving on. Just think about the position of the athletic director who doesn’t want to cancel early season games and the coach who wants to go out on those playing surfaces. The athletic director is the official go-between with the coaches and the groundskeepers. That in itself can ruin one’s spring. Taking things one step further, there are more teams and games to play throughout the area in the spring with the most unpredictable weather and a number of postponed contests than any other season of the year.

Which community do you believe has fields that are in the best shape for spring sports as of right now?

To be honest, Springfield is in the best shape of any area fields. Athletic Director Cagney Brigham tells me that both their baseball and softball teams have already practiced outside. Coaches throughout the area are envious of that statement.

Both Cosmo teams open on Tuesday, April 10 and indications are those games are likely to be played. Both teams will host Fair Haven at 4:30 p.m. The baseball team will be under the leadership of Jim Winslow, a former Otter Valley player, who is teaching in the district. He is pinch-hitting for Rich Saypack, while Rich is battling cancer. His road to recovery has started out well, by the way.

The first Cosmo spring team to open will be girls’ tennis hosting Bellows Falls on Monday, April 9. Springfield does not have a boys’ tennis team. The track team commences competition on April 12 at Fall Mountain.

Success in spring sports was found last spring at Green Mountain. The girls’ track team won a Vermont Division IV State Championship and both the baseball and softball teams were the C Division champions of the Marble Valley League. I spoke to Athletic Director Todd Parah, and he predicted if there were no major weather setbacks in the immediate future that both ball teams would open on Monday, April 9.

The baseball team is slated to open at home that day versus Twin Valley at 4:30 p.m. and softball is expected to hit the road and travel to Proctor. Parah says the softball field “is a ways from being ready right now, but should be fine by the 12th,” when the Lady Chieftains are slated to meet Leland & Gray.

Track will have its first competition down the road in Bellows Falls when they take part in the annual weight relay event. The girls compete on Thursday, April 24, and the boys’ teams are in action one day later.

April 9 is the day the majority of our area teams hope to engage in their first official action this spring. The Bellows Falls baseball and softball teams are scheduled for openers at Brattleboro that day at 5 p.m. Since Brattleboro is the most southern site any of our teams open in, chances are those games will be played unless the elements come to pay us a visit. The Bellows Falls baseball team plays their first four games on the road and doesn’t open at home until April 24 versus Hartford.

Bellows Falls softball has a new coach this year. Kim Wells grew up in Bristol, Vt. where girls’ sports are of utmost importance and she was a three-sport athlete who hopes to bring the same type of enthusiasm to the Terrier softball program. Wells is in her fifth year of teaching English at the school and has hoped a varsity coaching position would always be part of her future. She knows her team is young, but she is hoping to make a difference in the program over time. The Terrier softball team will have their first three encounters on the road and will open at home the same day as the baseball team, April 24 versus Twin Valley.

April 24 is a day for Terrier sports’ fans to circle on their calendars. Besides both softball and baseball staging their home openers that day, the track team will be hosting the Girls Weight Relays with the boys’ counterpart event slated for the following day. The track team will open with meets on the road, April 12 at Brattleboro and April 17 at Windsor. Bellows Falls girls’ tennis uses that magical April 9 date to open at Springfield with their home opener on April 24 against the same Springfield team. Boys’ tennis has the latest Bellows Falls opener, waiting until April 19 to travel to Rutland with their home opener on April 23 versus Burr & Burton.

Fall Mountain baseball is another team to begin play on Monday, April 9. They are scheduled at home, and Athletic Director Gordon Dansereau says, “There is still six inches of snow on much of the field.”

However, the leader is hoping to work out an alternative site for that opener. Former coach Frank Brown takes priceless care of the spectacular Hubbard Complex in Walpole, and if there can be enough sun in the next week, maybe the Fall Mountain home opener can land there. The Wildcats are slated to host Belmont at 4 p.m. that day. They then travel to Newport on Wednesday, April 11.

Molly McManus took over the reins of Fall Mountain softball a year ago, and this year her husband Steve comes into Langdon as the baseball coach. He had soccer coaching experience at Black River High School. Black River Athletic Director Joe Gurdak passed along to me that Steve “was a very good evaluator of talent, and he ran a very structured practice.” Fall Mountain will be glad to hear that.

The Wildcat softball team will play their first three games on the road, including their opener on Wednesday, April 11 at Newport. Danserau says their field should be more than ready for their home opener on April 20 against Mascenic at 4 p.m. The Fall Mountain track team opens at Kearsarge on Tuesday, April 10, with their home opener two days later, hosting a number of schools.

Black River’s baseball field is cooperating with the elements, but graduation may take place before the softball field dries out. Those words are an exaggeration, but Gurdak says, “There could be two feet of snow still out on the field right now.”

Sounds to me like Okemo should send a few trucks down to help out both parties. That is another probable exaggeration, but did you see that, Bruce Schmidt?

Anyway, Black River baseball is another one of those spring teams slated for an April 9 opener when they travel to Proctor. The Presidents’ home opener is April 23. When I spoke to Gurdak, he was searching for the Lady Presidents to scrimmage, practice, or play games. Before all is said and done, possibly Grevin Field in Cavendish will find its way to being ready. Black River could open at Whitcomb on Friday the 13th at 4:30 p.m.; but looking at the date, good luck with the chances of such an occurrence taking place.

The home opener is likely to be played somewhere on Monday, April 23 versus Leland & Gray with a rivalry game with Green Mountain slated two days later on a Presidents’ home field.

Spring has sprung and all the action is scheduled…or is it? Just ask your local athletic director.

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