Mother Nature has thrown a damper on the spring sports season for Columbia County's high school squads.
Constant rain this month has turned the fields of play into quagmires, and the wet weather has washed out a number of athletic contests.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
"Dove, turkey, deer - all the animals I like to hunt - I'm gathering in twos," Harlem baseball coach Jimmie Lewis said. "And I'm getting a pontoon boat, just in case."
Aside from building an ark, a sense of humor is the best defense against the recent deluge, but the situation is getting serious.
Evans High School has had to cancel several games this season because of the weather and condition of the fields.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"We have had numerous postponements," said Tom Holodak, Augusta Preparatory Day School athletic director. "Basically, the first week of the spring season was canceled."
Baseball has taken the brunt so far. Harlem already has postponed five baseball games, and the school's Diamond Day festivities were swamped last Saturday.
"That was the first Diamond Day we've ever had rained out," Lewis said. "I've never seen it rain this much before. There's a strong possibility we will have to play some make-up games during Masters Week."
Tennis, golf and track teams also are struggling to keep their heads above water.
"You can't throw the shot in the mud, and you can't long jump in quicksand," Holodak said.
Even soccer, which is normally played in inclement conditions, has been plagued by rain. During a recent girls match at Harlem, a muddy Morgan County player said, "This is like playing soccer in the Okefenokee Swamp."
Playing after recent rains turned turf to mud on Evan High School's soccer field. The Knights also have missed four baseball games this season because of wet field conditions.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The pitch is no paradise at Blanchard Stadium - earlier this month the Evans soccer teams staged home matches, and the turf was churned up so badly that the Knights and Lady Knights have had to play subsequent contests at Patriots Park and Evans Middle School.
While farmers may be happy to see the black clouds, there is no silver lining for local prep teams. The spring sports season features more teams and more events than any other segment of the school year, and all of the contests are compressed into a relatively short time frame.
When the schedule is already packed, and then the weather wreaks havoc, things become problematic.
"When you start having cancellations of rescheduled games, that's when it gets ridiculous," Holodak said. "If this weather continues for another week, we could get to the critical stage and cancel non-region games."
The Lakeside baseball team has already reached the critical stage. Panthers' coach Jimmy Smith has been fighting to get his field in shape, and it's a losing battle.
Smith has the materials on hand to repair the sloppy outfield at Panther Stadium, but his hands are tied. "I've got the dirt, and the tractor's ready to go, but I can't drive a tractor on the field. It would sink."
Lakeside has yet to play a home baseball game this season, and Smith has that sinking feeling.
"I don't see us playing a ball game here until after spring break," he said. "It's the younger kids I feel for. The junior varsity and ninth-grade teams finish the season by spring break, so the whole thing might be a wash."
As bad as things are at Lakeside, all the Columbia County schools are in the same boat.
At the Evans High School baseball field last week, the outfield grass was so saturated with water that there was no opportunity to mow that portion of the diamond.
"We can't cut it, so there was no way we could play (Tuesday against Harlem)," Evans coach Ricky Beale said. "I'm afraid a routine hit would get in the grass and we couldn't even find the ball."
The matchup with Harlem was the fourth game the Knights have been unable to play this month because of rain.
The Greenbrier Wolfpack, meanwhile, is six games behind schedule.
"We want to play these games in March, because that prepares you for the region games in April," Pack baseball coach Ed Williams said. "We have to finish regular-season play the second week of May, so it's hard to reschedule games. There's a sense of urgency."
In addition to postponements, team practices have been hampered by the rain this month. That throws a kink in the regular workout regimen, which in turn makes it difficult for athletes to find a groove.
"We've been forced to practice inside four or five times, so it limits what you're able to do," Augusta Christian athletic director Bruce Lane said. "You like to get outside and play, and run, and see what the kids are able to do."
Another weather front moved into Columbia County on Wednesday, and for the Evans baseball team, rain is becoming a real four-letter word.
"They're getting frustrated with it," Beale said. "They're tired of being inside."
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