Spring sports teams grapple with the chill

DOVER — The spring sports season ends in shorts and T-shirts, with 90 degree temperatures and sweat possible.

Early June is three long months away, however.

It’s been downright freezing at times, though a warming trend likely begins today and continues into next week. It’s early March, though, and temperates could still plunge in whipping winds.

This week, member schools received guidelines from the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA) on proceeding in extreme cold. Listed, in part, was:

• With a wind chill factor of above 35 degrees with precipitation, a list of guidelines were included.

• If there’s a wind chill of 33-35 degrees with precipitation, a maximum of 40 minutes of outside exposure is recommended.

• If there’s wind chill of 32 degrees or below with precipitation, no teams can go outside.

• Without precipitation, the wind chill must be below 25 degrees to mandate staying inside.

• Varying amounts of outdoor time is allowed as the wind chill rise above freezing.

“In order to ensure the safety of all athletes, please adhere to these cold weather guidelines,” the DIAA said.

Guidelines were established by the DIAA Sports Medicine Committee and Board of Directors. Executive Director Tommie Neubauer described it as “a reminding guide.” Also included was information on concerns during overly chilly conditions.

“With the forecast of unusually cold weather, primarily wind chill, we felt it was prudent to remind our member schools of these guidelines,” he said.

Among the notes, DIAA expressed that athletes with asthma are at increased risk of developing an attack.

“An athlete with asthma must have their inhaler in hand in order to participate in outdoor activity,” the release stressed.

The DIAA noted “The wind chill factor must be assessed prior to and every hour during practice sessions or competition using a local weather app such as Weather Bug.”

The guideline’s genesis began when some winter track events (shot put, pole vault and long jumps) didn’t have proper indoor facility equipment and couldn’t safely compete outside either, Neubauer said.

Schools have previously handled the elements safely – the DIAA has never received any complaints or known of situations where frigid weather practices caused problems, Neubauer said. A Heat Acclimatization Policy in place for many years.

Indoor workouts

Practices began on March 1, and time on playing fields has been limited at best. Most programs (including middle schools) are doing what they can inside before the regular season opens on March 22.

Lake Forest High athletic director/track and field coach Fred Johnson said the school has shortened practice times, uses two gymnasiums, the strength and conditioning center and swimming pool to make do.

According to Lake Forest boys’ lacrosse coach Brandon Johnson, athletes are honing their stick skills while largely avoiding contact due to hardwood floors and concrete walls.

“Being in such a tight space forces our players to focus more on the catching the ball and moving the ball quicker which increases decision making,” he said.

Conditioning inside just isn’t as valuable as being outdoors, Brandon Johnson said.

“We can run in a gym all we want but any lacrosse player and coach will tell you that you can’t simulate running outside on a field,” he said.

Dover’s baseball team hadn’t practiced on the infield as of Thursday, and the indoor batting cages shared with the softball team slow development, coach Dave Gordon said.

“A kid hitting in a cage is a lot different than being outside, any coach would agree with that,” Gordon said. “You want to see how the ball comes off the bat outside.”

Gordon and Lake Forest’s Corey Watt share concern about potential arm injuries when throwing is limited indoors and the absence of batters facing live pitching. Watt theorized that outfielders were most susceptible with limited opportunity for long toss to stretch arms properly.

Blessed with an indoor facility to use during bad weather, Dover softball coach Gerald Jester says the constricted conditions still have drawbacks.

“That still limits the full field defensive work and fly ball work,” he said. :There is not many ways to get flyball work inside so you just work on the footwork inside until the better weather gets here. We can do ground balls and get our swing in so that area is covered.

“Really until you get on dirt its tough to play your best ball, but the rest of the state in at the same disadvantage.”

Beginning the preseason a week later and extending the end of the regular season could help mitigate weather issues, Dover girls’ soccer coach James Toe opined.

Same situation everywhere

Doing what it can, the Polytech girls’ lacrosse program spends time with strategy sessions, video review and sharing the weight room and gymnasium.

“The spring weather is always challenging but the good news is everyone in our area is dealing with the same situation,” coach Lynn Richardson said.

“Hopefully it won’t have too much of an impact on our readiness for the season.”

Polytech boys’ lacrosse coach Bob Gilmore sounds positive about dealing with the elements, and a variety of stick skill drills in a confined space gymnasium continue to push athletes forward.

“We really have not been impacted too greatly,” he said. “We have been able to get outside by dressing for the conditions. Currently, we have only had one day canceled due to school closure and than a modified day due to cold.”

In any season, teams face an array of challenges from injuries, slumps, rainouts and more. Regarding the current cool, Polytech baseball coach George Eilers said “This is a small bump in the road.”

Said Dover track and field coach Jim Solomon, “We normally utilize our indoor practice facilities which include the gym and weight room and hallways.”

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