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Snow driving school sports officials crazy

January 27, 2011

When school is closed due to too much snow, athletes like Woonsocket High's Jessie Charette lose a day of practice.

There was eight to 12 inches of snowfall on Thursday morning. Last Friday, it was about a foot. And for the season, close to 45 inches have hit the region.
Global warming? It doesn’t seem that way.
The excessive snow this winter has certainly increased business at the chiropractor’s office with the young and old alike getting their backs aligned after hours of shoveling the white stuff. But for high school athletics in Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts, it also has increased headaches for athletic directors, coaches and their athletes.
Frank Gieselman, the current athletic director for the Cumberland school system and a past basketball, football, and volleyball coach for the high school and middle school for a 33-year period, doesn’t remember a winter season quite like this year. That’s including the Blizzard of ‘78 when he was the head girls’ basketball coach.
“I can’t recall this much snow coming in regularity,” he said. “The Blizzard of ’78 just shut down the state for five days. It is creating a little bit of a headache.”
Due to the recent storm that began on Wednesday night, 71 high school events were postponed by the R.I. Interscholastic League the last two days. Gieselman estimated that between 30-40 contests have been postponed this season between his middle school and high school programs.
Once things are postponed, the phone becomes a valuable tool for an A.D. For away contests, buses have to be canceled and for home tilts there are calls to the referees, the trainer and the police station for the officer on duty that night.
“Today was a busy day,” said Gieselman, about the four middle school sports and Cumberland’s home wrestling match between La Salle at the Wellness Center that were pushed to another day.
With the multiple games that have had to be rescheduled, the R.I. Interscholastic League recognized the problem the weather has created with teams having to play more than a few games in a given week and extended the regular season for boys’ basketball three days to Feb. 14. Gieselman expects other sports to follow a similar route.
But it’s not just the games that are being affected by the snow this season. With the cancellation of school often comes the cancellation of after-school activities. What that means is teams are not allowed to practice on the school grounds. The swim teams can’t use their pools and the other sports can’t get access to their gymnasiums.
School and after-school activities and athletics were canceled at Cumberland and most other communities yesterday.
“That’s an aspect that’s popped up the last few years,” Gieselman said. “Before, if school was canceled there were no games. Now, more and more, it’s the Superintendent’s decision. Today, for example, the Superintendent could have said no school except for athletics. Sometimes we are also driven by the Interscholastic League. We had everything canceled last Friday, but got a notice that all hockey games are still scheduled.”
Cumberland track coach Tom Kenwood says that no use of the school’s facilities creates a problem for his athletes in the skill events such as the high jump and the hurdles.
“They can’t do anything,” he said. “You can’t practice that at home.”
With the countless rescheduling of events, finding the right date to host a game can also be a problem. What may be a good day for one school may conflict with their opposition’s schedule. There’s also the facility issues. Postponing a game or games often takes a venue (gymnasium) away for the other sports to practice.
“The scheduling aspect is one of our problems,” Gieselman said. “Coaches are running into problems with practices when we have these days…We’ll have a game and then it takes away more practice time.”
“We are trying to fit (games) in and find space to put events,” he continued. “We have our basketball and wrestling teams trying to work it out with other teams. It creates a headache.”
For track coaches such as Kenwood, whose runners often use the open roads to do a considerable amount of their training, the unfavorable conditions often makes it tough to get kids out on the streets running. There have been times when the CHS coach will transport some of his runners in his van to the nicely-paved Nate Whipple Highway - a long, wide street that stretches from Mendon Road to Route 1 in Attleboro - to get in their miles.
“There’s other days they’ll just run around the school or in the gym,” he said. “You do what you can do. That’s what we did in the Blizzard of ’78. Your dedicated kids will still run.”
So, while a day off from school may seem nice for most students and teachers, it’s not exactly a picnic for those involved with athletics. The bad new is there’s still more snow predicted on Saturday and another possible storm coming early next week.

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