Even a week ago, the idea of starting the public schools spring sports season on time seemed like wishful thinking. An unusually snowy winter left athletic fields unplayable since the start of practice March 1.
But last weekend's sunny skies and warm temperatures dried out many area fields sufficiently to give a broad green light to the official start of the season tomorrow.
Only one jurisdiction, Baltimore City, has postponed the start of its baseball and softball seasons until April 1. Lacrosse and other sports will start on time in Baltimore.
"It's been a very difficult first few weeks practicing in cafeterias, parking lots and hallways," said Bob Wade, coordinator of athletics for the city public schools.
In other jurisdictions, athletic directors and coordinators are biting their fingernails and hoping for dry weather.
"Things were looking good until a forecast of rain," said Baltimore County athletics coordinator Ron Belinko. "If you've been around a while, then you don't panic. We'll wait to the last minute before we postpone anything. Each school will determine whether it can play. We don't want to tear up the fields before the growing season starts."
Belinko recalled a 1979 storm that kept teams off fields completely until the first game.
"There hasn't been a spring yet when all our schools started on time, because fields at certain schools like Woodlawn and Chesapeake back up to marshes," said Belinko.
Although most practices area wide have been conducted indoors or outside on parking lots, many teams have gotten on their fields at least once or twice, and many have played scrimmages on fields that drain well.
Some lacrosse teams have rented the artificial turf fields at the University of Maryland to secure at least one scrimmage before the season starts.
Glenelg's boys and girls played Westminster on Tuesday at Maryland. Saturday, the boys teams at Centennial, C. Milton Wright, Severna Park and Easton scrimmaged at Maryland.
In Howard County, stadium fields are still closed until tomorrow, but other fields finally opened for scrimmages Tuesday. Glenelg's baseball team scrimmaged Middletown at home Tuesday.
Howard County athletic coordinator Don Disney said half of the county's baseball and softball fields may not be playable tomorrow, but schools would switch games to playable fields to avoid postponements.
In Anne Arundel County, athletic administrator Marlene Kelly said everything was on schedule and lacrosse teams had practiced on Bermuda grass field hockey fields.
"We haven't used our stadium fields at all," she said.
Bruce Cowan, Carroll County supervisor of physical education and athletics, said several baseball and softball fields still had piles of infield dirt dumped on them. "We haven't been able to get equipment on the field to spread the dirt," he said. "We typically don't play our March games because of either wet or cold."
Cowan said most schools have used batting cages for baseball and softball practice and have taken infield practice on blacktop using hard rubber balls.
Forest Wiest, Harford County's athletics supervisor, sounded a little more pessimistic. He said Monday: "We've never had a winter like this. It's a quagmire. Water everywhere. But there are islands here or there you can play on. We haven't had any scrimmages here yet. Teams are way behind, and the caliber of play will be poor early."
Wiest predicted a small minority of teams would probably play tomorrow. "Last Friday was the first time any of our teams got on a field," he said. "You'd sink six inches running the base paths on most diamonds. Some teams won't have a scrimmage before their first game."
Catonsville basketball and lacrosse player Becky Clipp said the bad weather has been good for her. The Comets basketball team played until Friday.
"I haven't missed anything except a lot of running in the hallways," said Clipp. "I started lacrosse practice Saturday, and we shared a field with the boys. You don't sink in, but a lot of mud gets in your cleats, so there's no traction. We put in four or five creases around the field, so that when one gets muddy, we move to another one."
Howard boys lacrosse coach Wendell Thomas, whose team scrimmaged at Glen Burnie on Bermuda grass, said: "It hurts not to get on a field, because the touches won't be there. But by the second half of the season, it should turn around. This is when it's nice to have an open playoff system."