For most places across the United States, spring is the transition season between winter and summer. But for most of Montana, spring feels more like a prolonged winter and a belated summer. And while Havre seems to be right in the middle of a stormy spring, the Havre High Blue Pony sports are feeling the wrath of mother nature more than most. And while the rest of Havre continues to go about their daily routines, the Blue Ponies must deal with cancellations, rescheduling and a jam-packed Havre High gymnasium. HHS Track and field, tennis and softball all thrive on good weather. All three programs have adequate room to practice, when outside. The softball team has the Sixth Avenue Memorial Softball Field, the track team has the Havre Middle School track and the tennis team has the Bill Vaughey Memorial Tennis Courts. But when severe wind, rain, snow or a combination of the all three hit the Hi-Line, practices get a lot more condensed. HHS has one gym.. Combined, it holds a standard high school basketball court and standard high school volleyball court. It’s perfect when it comes to a game of five-on-five, but when used to juggle three programs in one evening its functions become much more limited. Wednesday night for example, each team was allowed 45 minutes a piece for practice. Havre was hit hard so far this week, first by dangerous winds on Monday, then by now two straight days of cold, wet snow and rain. “All of a sudden you have twenty-some girls in the gym and that really limits what you can do,” Havre High head softball coach Bob Evans said. “You can’t do your throwing drills like you want and you can’t do your hitting drills like you want. You are really limited in what you can do. We try to do some fun things indoors too, trying to make it fun to be at practice.” And what the softball team can work on in practice also affects their game-time performance. Things like rundowns and hitting are limited when practicing inside. And after bouncing back and forth between the field and gym, it’s almost impossible to get the repetition needed. “After coming off of a good Saturday and Monday,” Evans said. “All of a sudden Monday and Tuesday we don’t get any practice, we kind of forget what we went over on Monday.” Cancellations and re-scheduling also play a large part in softball. In a season, the Ponies are allowed 22 games, and with each cancellation comes crucial playing time needed to fully prepare for the Class A state tournament. And conference games are especially important. In conference games, the amount of players getting to play is limited. In non-conference competition, the Ponies are able to mix things up a little bit more. They can play more kids and work on different things “The conference games we have to make up somehow,” Evans said. “But the nonconference games that we miss really hurt us because you want to get more playing time for all of your kids. When we miss games it’s hard, it really hurts our depth.” When the weather is bad, but not bad enough to cancel the game, it’s also difficult to play good softball. There isn’t as much enthusiasm to play and the players are miserable. And playing makeup games during bad weather just adds to the problem while also creating a hectic schedule. The Ponies play the majority of their games on Fridays and Saturdays, but after re-scheduling, they sometimes have to play Friday or Saturday as well as Monday or Tuesday games. “When you are playing in the low 40’s is just isn’t as much fun to play,” Evans said. “When it gets up to 60 or 65 you can make it fun, you are enjoying the weather and it’s nice out. Everything just goes better, the warm weather is an advantage. “(Multiple games) are alright if the weather is nice,” Evans added. “But if it’s still bad weather it’s hard to get the girls focused for all of those games.” The HHS track team may not suffer the same cancellations, but bad weather also has its negative affects. Last year the Ponies had several track meets canceled on them, but this year through March and April they have made every meet on their schedule. And though they may not have taken place in the nicest weather, the Ponies are glad to compete. “We can deal with some windy and cold conditions as long as we can actually make the meet,” Havre High head track coach Roger Larson said. “But as far as the past two years, I think we are ahead of where we were.” So far this season the only meet to have been canceled or moved has been the Top 10 meet in Glasgow. The meet was moved from Tuesday to this Monday. And though the Ponies get to compete, practicing inside puts the track team behind the curve. With such a large roster, the track team struggles to prepare in the gym. But making a trip to the city pool once in a while instead gives the Ponies new life. It takes their mind of off weather and even track, relaxing the team and working almost like a refreshing restart button. “With the weather you have to be creative,” Larson said. “You have to have a backup plan going into each day. If it’s rainy you have to go to the gym, and if tennis or softball is already in the gym, can we go later, or can we go to the pool. You always have to have something in the back of your mind.” Where the track team really feels the affects of the weather is in their times and distances throughout the year. The Ponies may get the opportunity to compete, but cold and windy conditions aren’t ideal. Every practice and meet is used to prepare for divisionals and state, meets where times and distances are crucial, and athletes have to qualify to even compete. That’s where Larson really keeps his eye on performances, knowing that the regular season doesn’t really matter as much. “If you are bogged down by a whole week of being inside, you know the times aren’t going to be too good,” Larson said. “But I don’t really focus on the times, we treat meets as a full on, 100 percent effort practices. I am not too concerned about times until divisionals and state.” Tennis is yet another sport that struggles to find its place when the weather attacks the Hi-Line like it has the past two weeks. In other parts of Montana, and many areas of the country, indoor courts are prevalent and would prevent such weather-related issues. Havre doesn't and never has had that luxury, yet the Ponies have still managed to be one of the most successful high school tennis programs in the state, despite the unstable weather. Still, in his seven years as head coach at Havre High, George Ferguson is noticing differences that have began to affect the Pony tennis teams. "My first four years as coach, we didn't have one meet cancelled and we were maybe in the gym two or three times a year," Ferguson said. "But the last three have been totally different. We've missed meets which obviously hurts, but even more so, we're seeing more and more bad weather days during the week. Tennis is all about repetition. So are many sports, but a player's swing, ground strokes and serves, are really committed to muscle memory, it's important to repeat that swing thousands of times throughout the year, and when you can't do that because of the weather, it really hampers a player's progress." The HHS tennis team has only had one cancellation this season. Last week, the Ponies didn't make the trip to the Great Falls Invitational due to poor weather. That's the good news. The bad news is, in the last two weeks, up until today, the Ponies have only practiced outside twice. And a large number of their practices outside have been affected by wind and cold temperatures. "Like all the other sports, you just can't accomplish a whole lot in the gym," Ferguson said. "For us, the gym floor actually isn't ideal at all because the ball skips and if you don't work in their right, it will cause a player to change their swing. So we have to keep it really simple when we go in there and this year, we've been in there a lot more than we'd like. "But playing through this bad weather, wether we're outside or in the gym, the kids do gain some mental toughness from it I believe," he added. "This year especially, our kids have had to deal with a lot as it relates to the weather. All of the high school teams have. So I think the fact the kids are still coming in and working hard every day, it's a testament to their dedication to each of their sports and how much they like to participate and compete." The coaches here in Havre don’t like it, but the weather is something they have learned to deal with. Whether it’s 60 degrees and sunny, or severe wind and snow, spring sport coaches and programs have to find ways to prepare and compete.
Weather changes everything for Blue Ponies
HHS spring sports dealing with all kinds of weather issues
Published: Thursday, May 6th, 2010
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