The roar of the March weather has dealt a harsh annoyance to the scholastic athletic programs in New Jersey.
The rapid fire of the storms –three Nor’easter events since the start of the month and a fourth was expected to punch the state this week– has crippled the start of the 2018 spring season for local athletic teams.
Rather than shagging fly balls on the outfield grass, fielding ground balls on the dirt infield or hitting an approach shot to the green from the fairway, spring athletic teams have been forced to perform their drills on the hardwood floors of their high school gyms.
Outdoor fields across the region have been soaked by the snow and rains and those conditions have forced athletic directors and coaches to have to scramble in order to find some dry space to practice.
Michael Murray serves as both the athletic director and baseball coach at Saint Joseph Regional High School in Metuchen.
Since Saint Joseph is an all boys’ school, there are fewer teams to accommodate, but Murray still faces a challenge.
“We have six spring sports,” Murray said. “Golf and tennis have basically had to be put on hold for now. With their courses still covered, they couldn’t even have tryouts at this point. Volleyball has been able to use the gym. We’ve been able to rent some space from some of the local sports centers as well, so that has helped a lot.”
Murray said that the school’s gym is quite busy.
“We use that gym for basically everything,” Murray said. “We use it as our auditorium sometimes, and well as a place to have programs. The basketball team was in the state tournament for a while, so they needed the gym as well.”
Despite the many functions that the gym is tasked with, Murray said that he has been able to figure out how to manage it for the most part.
“We’ve been fine so far,” Murray said. “It hasn’t been as big as an issue so far. Again, with only six teams to worry about, it helps. We’ve been flexible, and the coaches have been really good at communicating and working together. Everyone’s been able to make it work except the golf and tennis team unfortunately.”
Old Bridge High School has had to be very creative in its approach to the weather.
The athletic director at Old Bridge, Dan DiMino, has to fit his teams into a schedule that also includes outside organizations.
“The most difficult part for us is that we have outside organizations that use our gym at night,” DiMino said. “Trying to coordinate every team coming into the building, and then canceling all those recreation basketball leagues, travel basketball leagues. We have indoor soccer and adult volleyball leagues that we have to cancel and disrupt their organizations as well. So, it’s just kind of domino effect.
“The best part is that our coaches have done such a great job at communicating and working together. We do a rotating process with the gym every day. It does help that we have some turf fields that melt a little bit better, so some teams can go out more. But it definitely hurts the team’s that don’t have the turf.”
Old Bridge’s softball team does not have a field at the school’s complex and plays at Mannino Park, so the team is at the mercy of the township. The baseball team plays at the school’s complex at Lombardi Field.
“Softball is hurt more than anybody else,” DiMino said. “They don’t have that facility that they can warm up and allow them to get out there. In reality, I think that any team that doesn’t have a turf field, they’ve been in the gym for months at a time.”
“Our baseball teams and lacrosse teams are outdoor sports,” DiMino said. “By bringing them in the gym, it’s a different atmosphere. In lacrosse, learning the positions and working on spacing and running the creases are tough because you don’t have enough space in the gym to do that.”
Despite the setbacks, DiMino is pleased with how the process has turned out.
“It’s worked out as best as it’s been,” DiMino said. “This is my second year, and my first year it happened the same way. We had a big snow storm in the beginning of March, and I worked out a rotating schedule. The coaches are used to it this year, whereas last year they didn’t really know about it too much. They know that there was going to be a 2:30-4:30 slot, a 4:30-6:30 slot, and a 6:30-8:30 slot, as well as one slot down in our freshman facility, and that it was going to rotate everyday. I think they understood that this is what it’s gong to be and hopefully, spring time comes quickly this year.”
Jessica Ahearn, a senior catcher on the Old Bridge softball team, pointed out the difficulties of practicing indoors.
“It’s very hard,” Ahearn said. “For softball, we’re an outside sport. You can’t do certain things in a gym. You can’t make outdoor cuts, and really bat. Hitting off live pitching is hard. Some of us haven’t seen live pitching since our summer teams. It’s hard to replicate some of that stuff.”
Ahearn did give the school officials credit for providing practice time indoors.
“We’ve definitely gotten enough gym time,” Ahearn said. “We have a very good athletic director who likes to be very diverse and work with all of the teams. So, whether we’re practicing at 6 o’clock at night, or right after school, we’ve definitely gotten enough gym time.”
Ahearn was anxious to see how the weather would actually help her team.
“With the cold weather, we have been running outside a lot,” Ahearn said. “We just got in from running today as well. In the early part of the season, it’s most likely going to be cold still, so we’ll be used to it. Hopefully, that will help us out in the early going.”
Robert Carnovsky has faced the challenges, too, as the baseball coach at Matawan Regional High School.
“Our athletic director has done a great job of just mapping out who’s going where,” Carnovsky said. “So teams know where we’re going to go. The track team has had a few days where they’ve been able to go outside, but for us, it’s about not risking injury. So, it’s been tough trying to schedule a practice, because we can come in and work on fundamentals, but not in-game situations, that’s the hardest part.
“Usually, you can get a squad to go outside and work on somethings, but today was only the third time we’ve been able to at least go outside for a few minutes. We’re like nine practices in, and have only been able to go out three times. We’ve been inside the rest of the time.”
Despite the fact that his team has received plenty of gym time, Carnovsky admitted that his players need to be outside.
“For baseball, it’s about getting the kids stronger,” Carnovsky said. “You get stronger throwing the baseball. So we want to stretch the kids out and get their arms going. We only can throw like 90 feet in here, so that doesn’t really do much.
“Being outside helps you do that. But, it’s really in-game situations that hurts the most. Setting up defenses and stuff like that. We have the indoor cage here, which isn’t perfect for getting real game batting in, but there is some stuff hitting wise you can use. Outfield really suffers because they can’t do anything.
“Like I said, this was the third time we’ve been able to go outside, but only the second time, we’ve been able to work on outfield cuts. Not only that, you get the sickness bug that hits some kids and that hurts as well. We’ve had one practice cancelled because of the nor’easter, and another because of the snow. It’s been one of the weirdest pre-seasons I’ve ever seen.”
The good news for all of the athletic directors, coaches and players?
Spring began on March 20.