Monday, March 09, 2015
It snowed again this week – AGAIN. We’re not Boston deep here, but deep enough to be chronically covered in a white blanket. In a phone conversation with my grandson in Columbus, Ohio, he told me his outdoor baseball tryouts had been pushed back a week, a timeline I found remarkably optimistic. Right now the only outdoor team sport we could play here would be if I formed a snowshoe Frisbee league. Home Depot has started advertising for spring planting. This requires three important factors: 1) The ability to actually see real earth; 2) The soil is thawed enough to dig for planting; and 3) You can trust that winter won’t suddenly return. I figure events should merge around June 1 for us here. Right now I’m watching on TV workers clearing snowy slush off the Rockefeller Ice Rink so Evan Lysacek can perform. This same slush led to a plane skidding on the runway at La Guardia Airport, luckily without serious consequences. Kentucky, a state one doesn’t normally associate with blizzard conditions, had hundreds of motorists stranded on snow-clogged freeways for the better part of 24 hours. I truly believe Punxsutawney Phil is a genius.
The weather affects so many of our sports. Due to a snow emergency in November, the NFL game at Buffalo against the Jets was moved to Detroit, not exactly a winter friendly location either. They said it was for the safety of fans. Nice sentiments, but there was also the problem of getting the Jets into Buffalo where no jets (aircrafts or players) were landing or taking off, and no guarantees that if they could get to Buffalo they’d be able to get back out. I’ve actually driven from Buffalo to Detroit, which takes about 4 hours going through Canada, not counting how long it takes to go through customs. So it was probably a good choice given the distance and that the arena has a roof. This week, FIFA is meeting to decide about the dates for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. In some break from reality, the country selected for that event was Qatar. Since the World Cup plays in June and July, it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere. That translates to an average temperature of 104 degrees in the DESERT nation of Qatar. So after several complaints, FIFA has agreed to consider shifting the games to November and December 2022 when the average temperature is a mere 80 degrees. Naturally, such a shift opens a whole other can of worms since countries set aside the dates in June and July. November and December are scheduled with league games, so professional teams risk losing their best players in the heart of the season.
In 2006, the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer College Cup finals were held outdoors in St. Louis. The event is always in December. So what’s wrong with this picture? The Midwest in winter seems to beg the question “what were they thinking?” just as Qatar in the summer. Naturally, there was a blizzard on Thursday with games to be played Friday and Sunday. There is always a youth tournament held in conjunction with the Cup called the Final Four Tournament. That had to be scrapped as teams were unable to get to St. Louis by air or road. Highways as far north as the Wisconsin-Illinois border and as far south as Arkansas were nearly impassable. I know this because I had started driving south with Bryce to get to the tournament. Two hours later, I was called back by the coach. The team was pulling out. By the time we arrived back home, the tournament had been canceled. Watching the Cup finals on TV between UCLA and UC Santa Barbara (yes two California schools) the snow contained by the four borders of the stadium had been plowed up to the edges of the bleachers in mounds that blocked the views from the first couple of rows. In order to do corner kicks players had to mount a pile of snow and run down it to the ball. There was merely a sliver of space along the sidelines for throw-ins. Behind the goal a glacier had been built. Spectators shivered on metal bleachers in 20-degree temperatures with winds lowering it even further. Ironically, the scene looked balmy and beautiful when camera focused on the center of the pitch. The grass was green and the sun was bright.
Most clubs have an inclement weather policy. In general rain is not considered inclement weather. When kids start in youth soccer at age 6, parents assume that rain with its accompanying cold and mud would be the perfect reason to cancel a game or practice so their little precious bundles won’t be inconvenienced. Think again. Rescheduling is an enormous headache because you have to coordinate with field, referee and coach availability. Throw in holidays, school events, and other weather issues, and you can understand why teams will do anything to avoid rescheduling. I once had make over 50 phone calls before I could finally reschedule a U-8 game – that’s an age where I didn’t have to factor in things like prom, finals, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and confirmations. Whenever I thought I had everything set, there’d be another obstacle like the State Association refusing to approve the date for reasons such as the game being too close in time to the next game or failure to submit proper paperwork. That’s why even when there is lightning, teams will wait out the storm in an attempt to avoid rescheduling which occasionally isn’t even an option. When my sons played together on their high school team, the state final took over five hours due to constant lightning delays. But there was no choice. They had to complete the game that day. Luckily they were playing on a pitch with lights. Despite teams soldiering through bad weather, it never hurts to check with your club or school to make sure a game or practice will occur. There’s nothing worse than driving to an event to discover yours in the only car in the lot.
Weather should be taken seriously by all involved. Too hot and there are dangers of heat stroke and heat exhaustion; too wet or icy there are dangers of injuries due to poor footing; lightning can take out an entire team. Therefore, parents and players need to be prepared. In summer, keep a hydration and cooling kit in the trunk to include water, sport drinks, cooler with ice and cloths for putting on wrists and necks during breaks, and something for shade which is UV-rated. Sunscreen should be used on any day since the UV rays aren’t dependent on the sun being visible or the temperature being hot. Since your children will most likely be playing in the rain, you’ll need to protect against the mud and damp. Have dry clothing available, lots of plastic bags to contain the wet uniforms and muddy shoes, and towels. Be sure to have a winter kit as well (which could be useful even in May). This would include gloves, hats, warm-ups, a broom, and a shovel to help clear off those snow-covered lines. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to speak up during lightning to insure that games are halted for the duration of the strikes and for 20 minutes after. The standard is that at the first sound of thunder, the games are to stop. With all the weather apps available, we can easily see where strikes are occurring and when they are expected to pass, so there’s no excuse of ignorance. Safety is important.
Despite winter, the MLS season began March 6. Plenty of games will be played in the next week at outdoor arenas in wintery territory. Luckily, most arenas have equipment to clear the field, although they may not clear the seating area. Not so for the Green Bay Packers, who have to empty out their stands two or three times a year. They hire locals at $10 an hour to shovel out the stands onto conveyor belts that run down the aisles carrying the snow to the field where it is plowed away. That system exists because they can be guaranteed of the need. I grew up in Seattle and I can tell you the Seahawks, and by extension the Sounders, don’t have any such system. If it snows the entire area shuts down. So technically those venues in the “snow zone” may actually be safer for conducting games during the next two months than those venues who don’t expect snow. So far, MLS has been able to conduct games without problem. It will be interesting to see how long the upcoming warming and snowless break will last. Between November and April, Montreal gets on average 75 inches of snow, over six feet, most of which doesn’t melt at all during that time. New England presently has over 100 inches of snow.
The good news is that none of that snow will last. Eventually I’ll be able to see my lawn, the window boxes will revert from blocks of frozen tundra to soft, pliant soil, and at some point I’ll complain about the heat. Such are the season cycles. Crazily I’m planning a trip to Florida in July with my grandkids, so I’ll need to prepare for heat, humidity, afternoon deluges and crowds. Unless you are a snowbird we are all prisoners of our climate. We would do well to just appreciate what we have and enjoy the playing opportunities the seasons allow. Optimism isn’t bad – although scheduling outdoor baseball tryouts in the last week of February in the Midwest seems unreasonable – so long as we are flexible. I’ve been to tournaments in March in Fort Wayne where we had to sweep off the lines constantly during the game, my kids played a game during a monsoon with puddles six inches deep at the goal mouths and in the center of the field, we traveled to a tournament in Las Vegas in July that was played on artificial turf so hot that the AR’s soles were melting, and I’ve spent many hours in my car waiting out lightning storms. That’s all part of the game. We are in an uneasy partnership with the weather, and we can’t get a divorce.