×

IMHO: Upper Valley ADs spring forward, fall behind

  • Greg Fennell. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Sports Editor
Saturday, May 25, 2019

So you want to be an athletic director at an Upper Valley high school.

Hmm. Wouldn’t you like something easier — like wild animal trainer or air traffic controller — instead?

In some three decades as an AD between stints at Mascoma High and Sunapee High, Tom Frederick hasn’t experienced a spring such as this. It’s in these days (weeks, months) that the drudgery of his job takes center stage: constant rearrangements of schedules because of soggy field and sodden skies, a chore compounded by the fact that as Sunapee’s baseball coach, he’s doubly affected.

He isn’t alone. Across the Upper Valley, area high schools have been doing a muddy meteorological two-step, moving practices and games from unusable fields and employing creative methods to complete schedules. With the bulk of Vermont and New Hampshire state tournament seeds arriving on Monday, most area teams will have spent all spring without significant home field time. A few will not have taken to their surfaces at all.

“In all the years I’ve been an AD, this has been the worst year, by far,” Frederick said recently. “We keep trying to reschedule the games we want at every level or every team that we have to have an experience that’s positive (for the players) but, unfortunately, we’ve had no practices on our baseball field. It gets frustrating for the kids and parents at times, because they don’t know where we’re going to be.”

Mother Nature takes full responsibility on this one.

This past April will go down as one of the wettest in recent memory. Lebanon Municipal Airport averages about 3 inches of rain in April, according to National Weather Service statistics. Last month’s total, courtesy of Weather Underground: 11.28 inches. May’s been above-average wet, too.

That’s why having options — and good neighbors willing to share them — have been so important in getting through this soggy spring.

When Hanover High’s tennis teams couldn’t make use of their Storrs Pond Recreation Area home courts, not an unusual thing given their forested locale, Dartmouth made its Boss Center available and Hartford High offered its home courts as well as those at the Maxfield Sports Complex. When Lebanon High baseball couldn’t take to its home diamond, the city’s Eldredge Park stood ready. (The Raiders needed five tries to get in a home date with John Stark, finally succeeding last Tuesday — at Eldredge.)

Third-year Thetford Academy athletic director Blendon Salls has had friends in dry places all spring, and they’ve frequently come to his rescue. His baseball and softball teams finally succeeded in playing games on their home fields on Thursday after spending all spring in alternative arrangements.

“It’s been frustrating, but the kids have done a good job of staying positive,” Salls said.

“Other ADs have done a really good job of allowing us to use Rivendell’s field, Oxbow’s field. We used the Chelsea baseball field a few times. The (Thetford) fields themselves are not fine to play on, but we have spots around campus where we can work on fly balls and ground balls. We have a hitting cage inside. We’re working hard and the coaches are coming up with thinking outside the box to get in our reps.”

There have been other compounding factors beyond the weather.

Back when he was a high school athlete, it wasn’t unusual for Doug Beaupre’s baseball team to play three games during spring vacation week; now nothing gets scheduled that week because too many players have left town, the Stevens High AD said on Wednesday. The NHIAA also mandates that teams complete their schedules regardless of postponements, and failure to do so could result in a forfeit loss being charged to both teams.

Beaupre ran into that latter situation with the Cardinals’ girls tennis team this spring. He and his counterpart at Manchester’s Trinity High spent hours trying to reschedule a match that was called off by weather at least twice. They never found a suitable date. Beaupre said both sent emails to the state office explaining their difficulties and asking for leniency.

Neither team qualified for the NHIAA D-III tournament, so an extra loss won’t matter. But what if this happened to be a team on the playoff bubble, like Stevens baseball, which also has to keep state-mandated pitching limits in mind when rescheduling?

“I feel bad for (coach) Paul (Silva) and baseball; they had to go to Kennett (on May 17), come back and play Bow at Bow the next morning and still had to play Windsor in the afternoon,” Beaupre said. “There is still enough of me to remember what that was like back when I was a kid. For me, that would have been awesome. But I get it with the pitching restrictions and whatnot. It can be difficult.”

Also compounding matters this spring: senior trips, end-of-year school social functions, a shortage of bus drivers and vehicles. And many ADs, Newport’s Jeff Miller among them, have to schedule both for high school and middle school programs.

“We have only one middle school baseball and one middle school softball team, but I piled it on because I had so many kids sign up,” Miller recalled last week. “It’s been a tough go with all of this; it’s been a juggle. I think our B teams have played maybe three or four games. I can understand where parents are upset. I could have just had cuts and decided on having one team because that’s all I could accommodate, but I’m not going to cut kids at that level.”

The time may be coming to look at alternatives. Beaupre and Miller posited the prep school approach, where classes end at noon on Wednesdays to leave time for games and Saturdays are reserved for doubleheaders. A smaller minimum schedule to qualify for states may be in order.

Otherwise, Andy Tufts may singe his corneas. The Windsor High associate AD handles all game scheduling at the school. He employs a spreadsheet to do his job; when a contest gets called off, it turns red on his computer.

“Last year, the month of April, more than half of it was red; that’s how bad it was,” Tufts reported last week. “When the calendar swung to May, it kind of settled down; we made it through May easily. This year, it never happened. It was a solid red April.”

April showers aren’t supposed to bring May showers around here. Not this much.

“Yes,” Tufts sighed. “It’s been a crazy year.”

Greg Fennell can be reached, safe and dry, at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.