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Spring starts with a shiver

High schools’ outdoor athletes train creatively

Welcome to the annual what’s not so “right of spring.”

They’re out there. Well, they’re supposed to be out there: the springtime athletes at Spokane Valley’s various high schools.

The season technically began Monday, almost three weeks ahead of the official first day of spring, with turnouts for track and field, baseball, fast-pitch softball, boys soccer, boys and girls tennis and boys and girls golf, and practices for those outdoor sports did begin. Indoors.

Why, you ask?

Because Mother Nature turns more than a little schizophrenic at this time of year. On the first day of spring practice, the outdoors was covered by a thick blanket of white snow, with more falling all afternoon. By Wednesday, rain had helped clear the snow, but what will eventually turn green was instead a dull brown quagmire.

“We’ve been pretty lucky here,” West Valley track coach Vic Wallace said. “In my five years here we’ve always been able to get out and work on our track. We have a great staff of custodians and they plowed the top layer of snow off the track, and once the sun came out the rest melted.”

Wallace had his athletes outside Wednesday. In the ever-changing micro-climate that is Spokane Valley, West Valley enjoyed a brief respite from a steady rain falling at East Valley, where only a dedicated band of boys tennis players braved the wet weather for their turnout.

Golfers, meanwhile, are stuck at the 19th tee until area courses open for play.

Meanwhile, the Eagles soccer team ran drills in the gym and the softball team worked in the indoor batting cage in the auxiliary gym. The baseball team would take its turn in the cage after 5 p.m. while workers completed construction on a new screen behind home plate on the varsity field.

Meanwhile, University had yet to take a step outdoors.

“Our girls tennis team went out and shoveled the tennis courts,” athletic coordinator Ken VanSickle said Thursday. “With the sunshine, the courts might get dried out enough for them to get on them today. Our track is finally cleared of snow, so track and soccer may get outside today.”

Tennis, soccer and track all figure to be outside by next week, VanSickle said, but before baseball and softball can take the field, the weather needs to cooperate.

“You probably need four or five days of temperatures above freezing before the frost layer melts and the fields can drain,” he explained. “There isn’t much you can do until that happens because it’s all mud.”

In addition to conducting practice sessions on a gym floor and batting practice on a pitching machine, baseball and softball coaches have their hands full this time of year. They must evaluate players and make the cuts necessary to form workable rosters. It’s not uncommon for a coach to make those cuts without ever having left the gym.

And those cuts are important. Spring games begin as soon as next weekend. U-Hi softball, for example, opens the season at noon March 12 at Moses Lake.

Along with breaking down swings, calling pitches and conducting fielding practices, these coaches, out of necessity, must be consummate groundskeepers.

“I think that has to be part of the job description,” VanSickle laughed. “The coaches do all of it – they maintain those fields and they have to really understand what the field needs. It’s a lot of work and they’re at it year round.”

While throwers worked on the shot put area at the south end of Ward Mauer Field, West Valley’s Wallace explained how he wanted his potential sprinters and distance runners to approach these early workouts.

“I don’t want to see anyone trying to race,” he told them. “Believe me, there will be plenty of time to race this season. You don’t want to see your season end because of a silly injury now, and believe me, I’ve seen it happen.”

Wallace is excited about the coming season, not just because he has a good group of athletes.

“We have the district meet here this year,” he said. “I’m already looking forward to that meet. We have a very nice facility, and we’re one of the few sites that can host a big meet like that. And I want to keep improving it. I want to see us able to host big meets at this facility, college meets. And I think we can make it happen.”