Spring sports getting raw deal

Commentary

The first day of spring was exactly three weeks ago, but it still feels like winter on the athletic fields of central Pennsylvania.

With cancelations of everything from junior high sports to Major League Baseball, it has seemed at times like spring will never truly arrive. This is just one of the reasons that spring sports get a raw deal, especially in the northeastern U.S.

We picture spring baseball, softball, track and field: sun shining, birds singing and fans enjoying the afternoon action.

But with snow flurries still flying in April, parents and friends are bundled up under blankets while watching games from the cold aluminum bleachers or sideline folding chairs.

In concession stands, hot chocolate and coffee may be more coveted than Cracker Jacks and ice cream for the faithful fans who turn out even when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

For colleges in our region, about two-thirds of the regular season is already behind them; they’ve spent most of their time on the road playing opponents in the southern or western climates.

Not only is there little home field advantage, with so few home games to enjoy, the warm-weather schools have the advantage of more practice outdoors; some can work out year-round, while central PA schools practice inside, on turf if they’re lucky, and under fluorescent lights.

Before you know it, senior day ceremonies will be upon us, followed by league and national championships, most of which occur after spring semester classes have ended. Much of campus will feel like a ghost town, leaving local teams with little company as they close out their campaigns.

With Mother Nature wreaking havoc on the spring sports schedule, athletes face additional challenges of time management as canceled contests lead to doubleheaders or weekend events.

Injuries are another concern. Longer and more frequent warm-ups and stretching are required in the cold temperatures, and even with the added precautions, injuries are more likely.

But perhaps the biggest bummer of this season, aside from the weather, is that the high school spring sports calendar competes with so many other end-of-the-year activities: class trips, concerts, prom, spring musicals, graduation … the list goes on and on. And by the time spring sports reach their playoffs, the school year is almost over; for state championships, most districts have let out for the summer.

This season’s athletes and coaches have to work overtime to overcome ever-changing schedules and once-in-a-lifetime distractions, not to mention the last blasts of winter, and this year seems worse than most.

Still, better days are on the horizon. And when the sun finally comes out to stay, there’s nothing better than competing outside in the springtime. And just maybe the extra effort required to get past all of those challenges will make spring sports success all the sweeter.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

COMMENTS