Today should be the official start of spring sports in the Upper Peninsula as the Marquette Reds and Blues square off in an American Legion baseball showdown at Haley Memorial Field.
But as I write this week's column on a sunny, 50-degree Thursday afternoon, I'm skeptical that spring is really here and that I will get to spend an afternoon at the ballfields. It's still 20 degrees out when I drive to work every day at 4 a.m. and my past experience working for The Mining Journal in Marquette, as well as time spent in North Dakota and Wisconsin, has left me with little hope that spring will actually arrive.
Eventually winter will grind to a halt and summer will appear out of nowhere to melt the snow and dry up the slop. I don't ever remember that happening in April, however. It usually doesn't happen until June.
Four years ago, Marquette County had weather similar to this and Negaunee Legion baseball coach Steve Ayotte and I got caught talking at the NIT about spring baseball.
We were both pretty excited for the season to start on time.
Then six feet of snow fell.
My April weekend at the diamonds was spent shoveling and I used the last ounce of strength I had left to apply for a job in California - where spring sports not only happens, but starts in February.
Like the U.P., March and April weren't too exciting for sports writers back in Wisconsin. Once basketball season wrapped up, the rest of March was used to compile and type up spring schedules. The first half of April consisted of writing cancellation and postponement briefs and the rest of the season was spent trying to figure out when and if any and all of the rained/snowed/mudded-out games had been rescheduled.
This "spring time" that everyone speaks of just never seems to come.
Eventually teams have no choice. Soccer, baseball, softball, tennis, golf and track teams bundle up, strap on some galoshes and head outside. They compete in the rain, snow, wind, cold, mud and dampness that is the Upper Midwest during this so-called "spring time."
Northern Michigan University seriously has it correct with only fall, winter and summer semesters. Spring truly does not exist here.
So why do we even try competing in this type of weather and scheduling outdoor events we know have only a 10 percent chance of taking place? Why is there a rush to finish the "spring" sports season by the time seniors walk across the stage to get their diploma? Why spend all this time practicing for outdoor sports indoors?
Summer is no longer an offseason for high school athletes so high school sports associations can't say with a straight face that athletics should be limited to classes being in session. While no sports are officially going on in June and July, athletes are "highly encouraged" to spend their summers shooting hoops in high school gyms or pumping iron in weight rooms.
Kids should be outside, not inside during the summer.
Instead of trying to cram an entire sports season into the month of May after having April washed out, extend the season to the end of June and cap it all off with state championships by the Fourth of July.
Dealing with the elements is a part of sports, especially in the Midwest, but are we really putting student-athletes in a position to succeed when they are running on wet tracks, kicking a ball on muddy, brown fields and teeing off against a cold north wind?
Let's give Mother Nature some time to do her thing. Be patient. Let her melt the snow, dry up the fields and give our kids some green grass to play on.
In the end, the wait will be well worth it.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org