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Practices stall amid snow and mud

Not so long ago, Rocky Batty, the Wellesley High boys’ lacrosse coach, told his players, “I don’t know when the next practice is; just show up with shovels tomorrow.” It was a cry echoed by coaches throughout the area as the harsh winter set upon high school spring teams and the fields they play on. “They shoveled as much as they could off the field,” said Batty.

Late winter snow storms, along with cold and cruel winds, had coaches trying to find indoor time and space for any kind of workout last week, while athletic directors were busy rescheduling games into May.

It was particularly hard on coaches who were trying to hold tryouts. “I’ve got 32 kids and 22 will make the team,” said Newton South girls’ tennis coach Bob Jampol. He was so anxious to get started he took the girls outside one day: “It was 37 degrees and windy.” Tennis, anyone? Not really.

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“I didn’t know who’d be playing singles or doubles, not to mention just trying to teach them how to play,” said Jampol. With athletic department budgets strapped, renting indoor courts was out of the question. “Too expensive,” said Jampol.

More and more high schools have artificial turf fields, but in this spring of relentless winter, that wasn’t always helpful.

Wellesley has a new high school with a turf field. “But the snow froze to ice,” said athletic director John Brown. “It became an ice skating rink.” Alas, hockey season was already finished.

Hudson athletic director Lou Macedo postponed a track meet against Marlborough last Thursday.

And, with baseball and softball games canceled because of winter storms, and the inevitable rain postponements during the season, rescheduling games becomes a nightmare.

“You’re talking about playing back-to-back-to-back games,” said Macedo. Nobody’s got a pitching staff that deep.

Hudson’s baseball and softball teams did what they could in the gym. “But it’s tough for the kids. You can’t replicate’’ a ball bouncing outdoors “on a gym floor,” said Macedo. “The first time the teams get on the field might be the first time they play’’ a game.

“We can’t even see our infield,” Brown, Wellesley’s athletic director, said on Tuesday. “Our baseball and softball fields are a disaster right now. The track and field teams can’t really do anything. There’s still snow everywhere.”

It’s hard to size up baseball and softball players in a gym, said Bellingham High softball coach Dennis Baker.

“Everybody looks great indoors. Outside, it’s totally different. I’m seeing a lot of sore arms right now,” he said. Teams that took a chance of practicing outside likely ran into what Baker’s squad did. “You hit fly balls to the kids and hope they don’t slip in the mud.”

Schools with batting cages can work on their hitting. “But I’d like to see some live pitching right now,” said Baker.

Natick High teams decided to go out one day. “It was cold, but OK,” said athletic director Tim Collins. “The next day it snowed. Every day you’ve got to have a plan A, a plan B, and a plan C.” Natick’s softball and baseball openers are scheduled for Tuesday. “I assume they’ll be pushed back,” Collins said last week.

A year ago Mother Nature was kind to the spring teams. Fields were playable in plenty of time. “We had sunshine, and we were outdoors,” said Newton South baseball coach Ronnie Jordan. Last week, he said, “We were in the gym, 7:30 to 9:30 at night. You miss live hitting. I’ve got 50 kids to get ready — freshmen, JV, and varsity.”

With a full slate of girls’ and boys’ teams, trying to squeeze an hour or so of inside practices becomes a rat race.

As for the Wellesley girls’ golf team playing its first match, “not a chance,” said Brown.

Wellesley teams have occasionally used Babson College’s turf field and Wellesley College’s indoor tennis courts, but Brown had to cancel last Thursday’s softball opener against Boston Latin.

Newton South’s Jampol recalled a snowstorm on April 1 a few years ago. “This winter’s been bad, but I don’t know if it’s the worst.”

Brown recalled last spring around this time. “It was 70 degrees.”

Bellingham’s Baker said, “We were complaining how hot it was.” Last Monday, he had to postpone a game with Franklin. It was cold, raw, and wet.

This is New England, so spring coaches know what they’re dealing with. “The baseball and softball teams have practiced at parking lots,” said Newton South athletic director Scott Perrin. “It’s such a dramatic change from last year. We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.”

Collins, Natick’s athletic director, was wistful. “We got spoiled last year. We were all wearing shorts. It was great.”

As the weather cleared up by midweek, the teams, and their coaches, were hoping the improved weather wasn’t just a tease. The spring seasons await.

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