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Ponies not waiting for spring

Havre High tennis teams are making the impossible possible, by digging the snow off their four courts, literally by hand


Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre High's Carsyn Vogel, left, and Devyn Solomon push ice off the Bill Vaughey Memorial Tennis Courts Wednesday afternoon. The Blue Ponies, and many other volunteers are taking on the monumental task of clearing record-setting amounts of snow off the tennis courts, so that they can begin their season as close to on time as possible.

No one, literally no one, has been immune to the harsh winter, especially, what has been deemed the snowiest and coldest February on record. And while snow fell and fell, and will probably continue to fall for the foreseeable future, few folks around Havre have probably given much thought to what the weather would do to Havre High spring sports.

Longtime Blue Pony tennis coach George Ferguson did though. In fact, he says he's thought about it a lot.

"You get one storm like we had in the winter, and as far as the tennis courts go, you don't really give it much thought," Ferguson said. "Especially the last 10 years or so. Things have been pretty mild, and the courts are usually in pretty good shape by the end of February. But this year, as the snow kept piling up, and the storms kept coming, I knew it was going to be very tough on our courts. It has been bugging me since Valentine's Day. My wife would say, longer than that."

Indeed, the last three weeks have not only smashed winter records in Havre, they've had a massive effect on the beginning of spring sports, which officially start on March 12. But, because of how much snow is sitting on the Bill Vaughey Memorial Tennis Courts, the Havre High tennis teams are already hard at work.

Ferguson and anyone who's wanted to volunteer their time, began clearing snow on Monday afternoon. He said they've put in eight-plus hours already, and they still have a long way to go. He also said, in his 16 previous years of coaching tennis, he's never been faced with a task like the one his teams are charged with right now.

"Not even close," Ferguson said when talking about the amount of snow on the courts just two weeks prior to the start of the season. "I've never, ever had it this deep, and then you have the ice down below. It's unreal. The day we started, it was pretty overwhelming. One tennis court is 90 feet long. We have four of them, and they're buried in four feet of snow, and some of the drifts are much higher than that. It's pretty disheartening."

Clearing the courts has been something the Pony tennis have had to do plenty of times. But, simply shoveling them off, as they've done in previous years, is just not an option with how much snow and ice is currently on the courts this winter. Any type of heavy machinery isn't an option either, one, because there's no access for large equipment to get inside the tennis courts, and two, because any type of metal attached to machinery would damage the courts.

"We're all in the same boat, track, softball and tennis," Ferguson said. "We've all got a ton of snow on our facilities. I know it's really frustrating for all three of us because the season is so close now. I think the big difference for us though is, clearing the tennis courts by hand, by humans is the only option. And even then, mother nature is still going to have to help. The ice that's stuck to the courts, sun and warm temperatures is pretty much the only thing that gets rid of that. So it's hard."

Hard might be an understatement. But the Blue Pony tennis teams are fighting back. With 10 days until their season starts, the Ponies are battling the courts with everything they've got, including snowblowers, and good old-fashioned manual labor.

"Our kids are working super hard," Ferguson said. "They are volunteering their time to come take this job on. It's not something they're required to do, it's something they want to do. We have had up to 20 kids each of the last three days, and parents are coming too, and donating snow blowers and shovels. Everybody is pitching in and it means the world to me."

Ferguson also said it's the love of the sport, and the pride his tennis players have in being Blue Ponies that brings them out to do a job that seems almost impossible, given the size of the courts, and the sheer amount of snow that they're trying to remove.

"Tennis season is my favorite season," Junior Marcee Murphy said. "There is no other sport like it. I would do anything to make it come faster even if that means shoveling piles of snow off the courts.

"I like tennis not just because it's a sport and I like sports or that I have fun playing with my doubles partner Trey (Murphy). I like tennis because of the family I have made from playing it and how much fun we all have playing together," added senior Kennedy McKay. "I consider the whole team my family and I want to get out there and get better. So shoveling the courts is totally worth it."

And so the work will continue. With bad weather in the forecast, Ferguson said no matter how much snow the Ponies move, they may not be able to play on the courts on March 12. But, if they didn't do what they're doing now, it would be much, much longer than that.

"We want to be outside," Ferguson said. "Tennis is definitely not a gym sport. We'll go in there and do what we can when we have to, but we want to be out on the courts doing what we love. And in order for that to happen this year, we have, and are going to continue to have to move a lot of snow. Probably more snow in two weeks than we've moved in the last 10 years combined. If we just waited for spring to come, I don't think we would ever get out there in March. Not this year."

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre sophomore Tyrel Kjersem runs a snow blower Wednesday afternoon at the Bill Vaughey Memorial Tennis Courts. Head coach George Ferguson said that the amount of snow on the courts is overwhelming, but that he's more overwhelmed by the amount of HHS students who have shown up to help clear it off.

But, given the dedication, and all the hard work the Ponies are putting into getting their courts ready for the new season, Ferguson said, it will eventually pay off. But more importantly, the gesture of so many showing up to help is something he's going to remember for the rest of his life.

"It's hard not to get emotional talking about it," Ferguson said. "These kids are amazing. I've coached a long time, and we always have great kids out for tennis. It's always been that way. But these kids are coming to the tennis courts in freezing cold weather, with an overwhelming job in front of them, just so that they can play tennis. What they're doing, the dedication they're showing, the love their showing for the game of tennis, and especially, being Blue Pony tennis players, just talking about it gets me pretty choked up. It's incredible. I'm so proud of these kids, and proud to be their coach. I'm going to remember what these kids did this winter forever. It's amazing. They're amazing."


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