Schedules swamped by weather Against elements, it's no contest


Wednesday -- four days after the official first day of spring -- Dulaney tennis coach Pat Heil found herself shoveling snow off the courts before practice.

Earlier the same day, local baseball commissioner Jim Diggs reported the cancellation of more than 150 games involving Baltimore County, Baltimore City and area private schools since the season officially began on March 17.

And Charlie Ackerman, chief maintenance manager at St. Paul's, said yesterday that he was immersed up to his ankles in water and mud while standing on the Crusaders' rain-drenched lacrosse stadium field.

"In my 25 years, I've never seen a preseason that's been worse. It's been a scheduling nightmare," said Poly athletic director Mark Schlenoff.

"We've had to cancel two important baseball games, and our softball team hasn't been outside that much. No one has more athletic teams than we do here, but, fortunately, everyone's been nice about sharing the gym."

The March 13-14 blizzard, which dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in some areas, has been followed by several days of rainstorms. The harsh conditions have forced most high school coaches and players of spring sports to remain indoors.

"Hitting drills, base running, defensive play, running in the halls -- we've used virtually every nook and cranny to simulate the live action of a game, but there's no way to duplicate the real thing," said Patterson baseball coach and athletic director Roger Wrenn, who has had to cancel three scrimmages.

"You just try to keep your players busy doing something, but after a while, I guess, you have someone whose standing around, bored," said Elaine Lindsay, Dulaney softball coach and athletic director. "You know your players are all champing at the bit to get outside, but everyone's in the same boat, so my attitude is you try to accept it."

But with the public school regional and state tournament dates set for late May, coaches and officials dread the possibility of more inclement weather, which could prevent games from being rescheduled.

For each team, state rules permit athletic directors to schedule a maximum of three events a week, although a rescheduled game can be played as a fourth event.

"When it comes to the playoffs, baseball coaches are going to have to be of sound judgment with their pitching rotations," said Baltimore County physical education and athletics coordinator Ron Belinko, citing state rules that limit baseball pitchers to 14 innings during a seven-day period and 10 during a three-day period.

Ned Sparks, executive director of the state association, said schools still have ample time to make up their early postponements, saying, "We know that teams are backed up, but no one's panicking yet."

No one except perhaps Jack McCracken, supervisor of athletics in Harford County. "I'm not too concerned about the other sports, but baseball and softball have me worried. These fields are the worst I've seen in 29 years," said McCracken, who coached baseball for 20 years.

"As of right now, I don't see us getting near the diamonds for about another week -- and that's if the weather is good. Our fields are really in bad shape."

Brenda Gelston, as executive director of Baltimore's board of officials for women's sports, supplies officials for 60 high schools and 22 colleges in Baltimore County and city.

"I've barely kept my head above water. I've been swamped," said Gelston, adding that bad weather curtailed a preseason training seminar for novice officials.

"Our normal game load is 18 to 24 a day for girls lacrosse and 30 for softball, but now it's going to be about 30 to 38 lacrosse games and like 40 for softball.

"That means that some officials are going to have to work six to eight games a week. Some softball double-headers will be covered by the same umpire, and one official may have to work a lacrosse game alone. There's a chance that an official could be forced into working a higher level than she's trained for."

Coaches in general don't expect a high level of intensity for the first few games, which are likely to be played under sloppy, treacherous conditions. But players relying on conditioning from inside practices face the possibility of injury, Belinko said.

St. Paul's top-ranked boys lacrosse team was among the first to test the waters. All-Metro Michael Watson scored St. Paul's game-winning goal to edge No. 2 Gilman, 8-7, in double overtime Tuesday in the rain-hampered contest.

"We've got speed and skills, but [Tuesday] we couldn't even put two passes together or tell whether we were throwing the ball or a clump of dirt," St. Paul's coach Mitch Whiteley said.

"This has really been a pain in the neck. Our normal four or five preseason scrimmages became 1 1/2 , and we've gone outside for only two average practices, instead of 10 good, hard ones."

Heil's players had been out just four times, including Wednesday, when she still carried the school-record 64 kids who turned out for this year's program.

"We open with Perry Hall on Monday, and I haven't even made final cuts," Heil said. "We travel with the JV baseball team, so if a field's not playable, we don't go."

Ackerman's program is equipped with five delicately manicured fields, but the Crusaders ripped nearly bald the auxiliary field in .. its season opener. The Crusaders, who play host to Division II rival Severn today, could cause long-term damage to a surface that last summer cost $2,000 to resod.

"We rotate the use of five fields so they don't get too ripped up," said Ackerman, whose fields accommodate five levels of boys lacrosse. "We try to let them dry out, rake the mud up and use a big concrete roller. But that's all we can do until this summer."

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