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Snowed Out

The Flagstaff High School baseball field is covered by a layer of snow Thursday afternoon.

Although he's been dealing with a scheduling nightmare, Mike Elder still doesn't feel like the spring sports season has started yet.

Elder, the athletic director at Northland Prep Academy, has yet to watch many of his teams play a home game due to the onslaught of inclement weather that's pummeled Flagstaff in the last month. The experience is the same for the other schools in town as their spring sports programs scramble to fit in road games and even practices.

In late February, right at the start of the spring season, Flagstaff received 35.9 inches of snow in a 24-hour span, an accumulation that broke the more than 100-year-old single-day record. The storm also put February as one of the wettest in town history.

"You got to look for the success where you can find it even though in times like this it's frustrating," Elder said. "I don’t even feel like it’s the spring season, I have not been to an event so far.”

By the time the tennis courts were cleared and the ballfields started drying, more moisture followed the giant storm and dampened any chance of teams getting in some home games. More of the same continued, and teams continued to see weather -- rain, snow, wind -- that kept them playing on the road.

Coconino's beach volleyball and tennis teams managed to sneak in home matches last week, and Flagstaff's beach team played last week at Coconino High. It took a lot of shoveling.

“What are you going to do? You have no alternative," said Eric Freas, athletic director and trainer at Coconino High School, "because either you are going to shovel it or you are not going to play.”

Flagstaff's baseball team had to hold off its home debut even longer, as the latest storm forced the team to reschedule Saturday's matchup to an away game at Prescott.

And even once the snow melts or is removed, the facilities are far from suitable.

“It’s not the snow as much as it’s the pools of water that come after the snow," Freas said.

SNOW EXPERIENCE

So teams have adjusted, most of them doing so with success. Some of the baseball and softball squads have had to play home games on away fields and work in doubleheaders. Tennis teams have decided to travel as much as they can too.

Flagstaff's tennis teams have been rolling with winning records. The Eagles baseball team is 5-1, and Coconino's softball team is 4-0 despite not having played at home yet.

"We try to do some fun drills inside, stay creative," said Panthers manager Kimberly Dennis.

Coconino softball has been focusing on offense while being stuck swinging indoors. The Panthers have outscored their first four opponents 59-7. Dennis said the road games are not as tough as making sure the kids have time to be students.

“Whenever I go by the gym, I see that our coaches have numerous stations going on," said Elder, noting how his school has indoor hitting cages thanks to receiving a grant from the Arizona Diamondbacks. "I give them all the credit in the world for being resourceful, and they have so much help from all the parents volunteering."

Both ADs said they are also fortunate that opponents have been flexible and understanding of the situation. They added that the parents and coaches play a big role in facility maintenance and in practices.

"Even though it’s been impossible to keep up with it just because the amount of moisture that we’ve gotten, they do everything they can to make it playable," Freas said of the efforts from coaches, families and players to keep the fields and courts usable. "But then as soon as we get them ready, we get more moisture, like what happened again last week.”

ABSORBING THE COSTS

The squally spring is hurting Northland Prep's wallet as well. The Spartans tennis teams play at Continental Country Club and pay for the usage, according to Elder. Any time missed on the courts doesn't get prorated, he added, so the school absorbs the costs.

"We’re paying big bucks for those courts,” Elder said.

The Spartans baseball and softball teams play on the Sinagua Middle School fields, which Northland Prep pays the Flagstaff Unified School District to use.

Coconino's tennis court situation is different. They are located at the Hal Jensen Recreation Center next to the high school, and according to Freas, the Panthers do not have to pay for their usage because both entities fall under an intergovernmental agreement as both are government agencies.

The chaos involves other parties as well, such as referees. Freas says Mike Gillespie, who manages the officiating crews in the area, has been just as helpful as the coaches and parents considering the situation.

“He’s got the entire north side of the state trying to rearrange referees and umpires and all kinds of stuff, so he’s been tremendously accommodating in getting us those individuals as readily available as possible," Freas said. "It’s not just a matter of getting the two teams together on a day, you have to make sure you can get officials as well.”

Hopefully after spring break, which is next week, Flagstaff's high school sports seasons will finally be ready to blossom.

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Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at mhartman@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.

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