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HAZELWOOD: Early spring schedule is miserable — but no simple solutions

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Apr 5, 2018 at 5:31 AM

NORWALK — Some years are better than others.

But none of them are very good.

Norwalk baseball coach Wes Douglas has been doing this for more than two decades — 22 years to be exact. So none of this is ever surprising, yet it does feel worse each year.

It’s hardly breaking news, but early spring weather in Ohio is miserable. As I spoke to Douglas on Wednesday, he was leaving yet another indoor baseball practice for the Truckers.

As he looked outside, not only was it snowing — but the wind gusts were more than 40 mph, producing wind chills in the mid-20s.

I just shivered a little typing that sentence.

The Truckers and many others were able to get games in on Monday. But the past 48 hours have been completely rained or snowed out. And even if games are played today, Friday and Saturday, the temperatures before wind chill is projected to range from 35-to-45 degrees — with little sunshine.

Want to play or watch a doubleheader this Saturday? The forecasted high temperature for the entire day is 35 degrees as of this writing.

Next week only looks minimally better in the early going, with a slight chance of breaking 50 degrees by April 12.

And for what it’s worth, Easton says its composite baseball bats should not be used in sub-40 degree temperatures because of a broken bat hazard.

OK, then.

Norwalk in particular has played four games in a possible nine days. So what is the biggest challenge right now?

“Mental preparation,” Douglas said. “I say this every year, but we have as good of facilities as anyone with two gyms and a nice athletic complex.

“We try to keep it fresh and work on something different each day,” he added. “But it’s about staying mentally tough so that we’re as prepared as we can be when we leave gym. We always remind ourselves that it’s not just us — everyone is in the same situation.”

This all points back to what has been a growing debate in Ohio about the length of the spring sports season.

Last September, the Ohio High School Athletic Association Board of Directors voted down a proposal by the coaches association by a 7-2 vote. The proposal was to extend the season by two weeks.

But as has always been the case, spring sports will always be a victim to the Ohio calendar — and not just the weather. The biggest issues surrounding an extension to the season is end-of-year activities in school districts.

Some schools let out earlier than others. Some attempt to finish by Memorial Day — which Norwalk and St. Paul schools did just last year. An extension of the season could push district or regional tournaments back to Memorial Day weekend and beyond — raising conflicts such as graduation ceremonies not held on Sundays, or school awards nights.

There is also the uncertainty of using Huntington Park in Columbus for the state championships. What if a later state championship weekend interferes with the host Clippers, the Triple-A minor league affiliate of our beloved Cleveland Indians?

This scheduling issue is certainly not impossible, though many area districts would have to change the way tournament games are scheduled. Perhaps no weekend tournament games is the answer, leaving Saturdays in late May open?

“I’m definitely in favor of the more recent proposal out there of extending by one week,” Douglas said.

Douglas points to Ohio’s neighboring states, which all endure similar weather, as examples.

Currently Ohio has 43 regular season days for 27 possible games, and 78 days when combining the tournament schedule. In Michigan, high schools get 79 days for the regular season and 97 if you include the tournament.

“Maybe add a week, or even 30 games in 60 days instead of 27 in 43 days — but definitely extend the season by some point,” Douglas said. “It’s kids playing baseball. There is always reasons to not do something, but there are more reasons to do it than not.”

Rain or shine, one thing Douglas and pretty much all coaches cannot do is spend a whole lot of time obsessing over the schedule — and its pitfalls.

“People will argue one way or the other, but this (weather) is a prefect example right here,” he said. “But just tell me when to be there and we will be there. It’s not something I go around obsessing over.

“But to benefit of the kids, it does need extended by one or two weeks,” Douglas added.

I would add this: the proposal seems reasonable, but both sides need to continue to iron out the fallout of scheduling. I can remember not all that long ago when 22 basketball games instead of 20 in Ohio was blasphemy — but then it eventually passed and is now commonplace.

An extended season is good for the kids and the game. Most notably player health with regards to pitch count restrictions and development with more practice times — and games played.

It’s also hard to ignore the schedule conflicts, not to mention high school kids playing a sport if school has been out for two weeks — not to mention the summer committments to other sports.

So this can be done, but it will take patience and constructive dialogue. In other words, neither side should expect to hit a home run on the first pitch.

In the meantime, stay warm out there, everyone.

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