Prep Sports Were Snow Fun This Spring

extended winter conditions wreak havoc with high school schedules

Luc Anthony

You probably know the common saying about the western Wisconsin climate: We have nine months of winter, and three months of bad sledding. Sure, in most years this seems like hyperbole, but 2018 seemed determined to increase the accuracy of that axiom. Whether you’re in the seeming majority who wishes wintry conditions would cease by April Fool’s Day or among the handful who appreciate extra skiing and sparkling white trees, there is one group of folks who do deserve our sympathies for an extended stay by Old Man Winter: athletes.

By and large, spring high school and college sports take place outdoors. This makes sense: The average high in early April is around 50 degrees, going up by the end of the school year. Snow and ice may cover the ground, but ordinarily they should be mostly melted by mid-spring. The averages say that softball, baseball, soccer, and track and field should rarely be hampered by the weather.

But what do you do when the snow refuses to stop falling, and the temperature will not warm into the ballpark (pun not intended) of normalcy? Thankfully, there are dome-able facilities for ball fields down in Mauston and over in Rochester, but they can only handle a few teams at a time. The entire daily schedule of the Big Rivers, Western Cloverbelt, Dairyland, and Dunn-St. Croix conferences could never squeeze in all their action for a couple of weeks … never mind the needs of numerous other schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Track and field can handle rain and some cold, but at a certain point, surfaces become non-tactile. Meanwhile, ponder what a golfer can do: Indoor simulators provide a facsimile of the links, but there is no way to put a roof on an entire course.

Spring sports have been in a state of suspension for a while this season, though – quite clearly – the weather has shifted in favor of actually being able to play outdoor athletics in the outdoors. If this weather were a fluke, you could brush it off (even though some kids may lose some final athletic career opportunities prior to graduation). 

However, this column feels as though it could have been written a few times this decade with some variation. In 2014 we had snow into April, while the prior year featured the legendary 8-incher on May 2. Last spring wasn’t so much wintry as it was cold and wet; on seemingly every softball game day, rain was falling.

Autumn seems to lack many of these weather hazards, though having a prominent sport that thrives in warm, cold, wet, and snowy conditions – football – helps ameliorate the situation. Perhaps luck is bad. Perhaps this is the changing climate. Whatever the reason, the prep and college cancelations continue to accumulate.

Ideally, a column like this would offer a solution to this quandary, but after talking to fellow members of the Chippewa Valley sports media, a solution does not seem easy. We obviously cannot afford inflatable domes for all baseball, softball, soccer, and track and field venues. Stacking up meets and games only works so much before athletes get too worn down or have academic conflicts.

The most obvious move might be to shift the spring sports seasons later in the year. Why not start in late-April and finish before July? Well, you have the problem of graduation, which would affect many more athletes if seasons ended later. (Remember, in our area schools, the term “student-athlete” means something.) Families would be upset about losing vacation time; again, with all schools in action – not solely playoff qualifiers – you would have more availability problems for participants, with regular seasons lasting into June. Additionally, some sports have summer leagues – think Legion baseball – that would be cannibalized by a delayed spring schedule.

At least no sport seems on the verge of vanishing due to the likes of Winter Storm Evelyn dumping a foot of snow across western Wisconsin. Our athletes and coaches are an adaptable bunch; they’ll figure out ways to get in many of their games, even if the final records look a little weird. And, hey, if April snow becomes a semi-regular thing, might I recommend a column of mine from eight-and-a-half years ago: Winter baseball could be our next Valley export. Play ball … if you can see it.