Two weeks ago, when spring seemed just around the corner, Prairie Ridge senior pitcher Kirsten Stevens and her softball teammates trekked to Lippold Park in Crystal Lake eager to finally practice outside on a softball field.
Tired of the monotony of trying to run softball fielding drills inside a gymnasium, the Wolves were anxious to take the field. They quickly discovered, however, the outfield was unplayable – hard and unsteady like a sheet of ice. That’s the last time Prairie Ridge attempted to practice outside, let alone play a game, and the Wolves aren’t alone dealing with the restrictions and frustrations of being stuck inside.
Abnormally cold and wintry weather in northern Illinois has prevented many spring sports teams from playing outside, resulting in the cancelation and rescheduling of many games, particularly baseball and softball.
“We definitely try to be more positive and vocal in the gym to try and make it as real as possible for any game situation, cheering on each other when we make a good play,” Stevens said. “That definitely helps keep the team really pumped up … but we’re definitely dying to get outside.”
Dundee-Crown assistant athletic director Andy Lambert, who is responsible for scheduling teams’ practices and games, deals with the weather-related logistical difficulties daily. Before any game is canceled, Lambert speaks with the coach of the respective sport, the grounds crew or building managers at D-C and athletic director Dick Storm.
“It can be tricky coordinatating indoor practice schedules for a multitude of teams and making sure all the coaches are happy,” Lambert said. “As for games, the difficult part is working with coaches in terms of finding a reschedule date that will work for them where they’re not playing too many games in a row.”
Poor field conditions and opportunities to fit in games have been ruined by frigid temperatures or snow on the fields so some teams are using whatever resources they have available to make best of the situation. Marengo softball coach Dwain Nance decided an indoor facility was the Indians' best option to get in a game. On Friday, the Indians traveled to The Dome At The Ballpark in Rosemont, where they beat Wauconda, 5-2. It marked the third time in four years the Indians played at least one game indoors. The Rosemont facility cost $175 an hour to rent, and each school is responsible for paying half.
Marengo is scheduled to play at the same facility 9 a.m. Friday against McHenry and against Zion-Benton at 11 a.m. Nance is in his 14th year coaching high school softball, the past seven at Marengo, and he said he believes the weather this year is “by far the worst that I can ever remember.”
“With us not getting a lot games in early, it’ll benefit the veteran teams that have veteran players or a lot of returning starters,” Nance said. “That’ll be big.”
Huntley baseball coach Andy Jakubowski is making the best of an unpleasant situation. The Red Raiders practice at Union Special, a warehouse in Huntley, four days a week for live pitching. It's allowed pitch counts to increase for Huntley pitchers while hitters get three to four at-bats each day. Those extra reps, which typically involve a pitcher throwing 12 scripted pitches, provide a game simulation – valuable experience even though it's in a cage.
Temperatures are expected to reach 45 degrees by the weekend, which still aren't ideal, but teams finally should be able to play outside. But by then, spring break will be ending for many schools, a prime time when coaches have an opportunity to get a look at their teams in games.
“Generally, what will happen is we’ll get our games in during spring break and then we’ll have bad weather with April showers and all that fun stuff,” Jakubowski said. “But to start off the season and to already be canceled Friday, Saturday and Monday and Tuesday already, it’s definitely been a bad year so far. We’re making the most of a bad situation.”