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Signs of spring

Warm weather has many local high school teams outside earlier than normal

by Joshua Spaulding
Sports Editor - Granite State News, Carroll County Independent, Meredith News, Gilford Steamer, Winnisquam Echo, Plymouth Record-Enterprise and Baysider

Newfound’s baseball field and track area were still a bit wet, so athletes were working inside during the first week of spring practices. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
March 26, 2012
REGION — While the spate of warm weather that marked the penultimate week in March was bad news for skiers, snowmobilers and other winter enthusiasts, it was a nice change for the local high school spring sports coaches and athletes.

"It's unbelievable having the gym empty at the end of the day this time of year," Prospect Mountain Athletic Director Corey Roux said. "It's unheard of for us to take a field before April vacation."

The Timber Wolf teams have all been outside in the first week of spring practices, which began on March 19, something that never happens. The tennis teams are out on the tennis courts, the track team is on the track and the baseball and softball teams are working at Alton Central School while the Prospect fields dry out a little more.

"There was still two feet of snow out there at this time last year," Roux said.

He noted that the high jump pit and pole vault area are both set up, which is even more unusual, as the team often gets through its first weeks of outdoor practice without all the equipment in place.

Plymouth Athletic Director Chuck Lenahan also has a few teams out on the school facilities, but is also making use of the Plymouth State University Field House, right down the road.

Lenahan noted that PSU Athletic Director John Clark lets the Bobcats use the field house the entire first week of practice, which occurs during the college's Spring Break.

"It's fantastic that he give us that for the first week," Lenahan said.

Bobcat athletes are in the field house from 3 to 10 p.m. pretty much every day during the week.

The Plymouth softball team has been on its field, D & M Park, which is also located on the campus of Plymouth State, but the lacrosse teams and the baseball and track teams have been utilizing the university's facilities as they wait for their fields to dry out a bit more.

The Bobcat tennis teams have been outside on the school's courts already and are preparing for their season opener on Monday.

Lenahan noted that the ability to go outside has opened up a lot more possibilities for the local teams.

"We'd be looking at two more weeks in the gym at this point," he said of a normal year. "This is a big positive."

Down the road at Newfound Regional High School in Bristol, Athletic Director Pete Cofran reported that his teams weren't outside quite yet, as the baseball and softball fields and the track facility were still a little wet.

"The kids would like to get out and the coaches would too," Cofran said. However, he noted that the early season practices in the gym give the coaches a good chance to work on some fundamentals in a controlled atmosphere, which his coaches know can be a good thing.

"They all know they have to do some things inside," Cofran said.

Traditionally, Newfound staff will actually plow the school's fields in February when the ground is still hard, allowing the snow and ice to melt a bit faster when the warm weather rolls around, but this year there was no plowing needed.

Cofran noted that there are always lots of challenges with spring teams, from the excitement of the end of the school year to other clubs and activities ramping up, but the lack of snow has made things a bit easier on everyone involved with the spring sports.

He's also been around long enough to know that things can change.

"It can snow at any time, there's no doubt about it," he said.

At Kingswood, the baseball and softball teams both will have new facilities to call home and both have been out on their new fields after spending the last few years away from the Kingswood complex as the new fields were constructed.

The softball team played its games and practiced at The Nick the last few years, while the baseball team had to travel to New Durham for games and practices.

Veteran softball coach Dan Chick noted his team was on its field from day one, while the baseball team has also been outside since the beginning, something longtime baseball coach Chip Skelley can't ever remember happening. And he's been on the job at Kingswood since 1981.

"I've never had tryouts outside and I've never had a scrimmage in March," Skelley said. "This is a lot of firsts."

The Knights were slated to have a scrimmage at Somersworth Wednesday afternoon.

With the new field in place, the Knights have had four-hour practices through much of the first week, something that was impossible last year.

"Last year that was three practices," Skelley said, noting the bus ride to and from New Durham as well as the limited time they were allowed to use the field.

"This is pretty nice," he said. "The field's in pretty good shape. It's nice to be there."

The Knights also have use of a brand-new batting cage in the school's new practice gymnasium, so the team has spent time in the air-conditioned gym working in the cage.

"We have to take advantage of what we have," Skelley said. "You never know what it will all be like in two weeks."

Last year the Knights got on a field for the first time on April 24 and played a game on April 25, so he is happy to see the kids out on a field early this season.

Skelley also noted that the kids seem to have a renewed sense of pride with the new facility.

"The kids consider themselves pretty blessed with this facility," Skelley said. "They have a little more pride."

The Knight tennis teams will also be able to boast new facilities, as the town of Wolfeboro upgraded its tennis courts last spring. Kingswood played the majority of its games at Camp North Woods last season, but this year, the town courts at Foss Field are ready to go.

"The new courts are great," girls' tennis coach Tom Merrell said. He noted both his team and the boys' team had been out on the courts at Brewster Academy while the Bobcats are on break and the Knights were planning on getting on to the town courts late in the first week of practice, which was certainly earlier than normal.

At the northernmost school in the coverage area, the snow was just disappearing from the fields as the first week of practice opened.

"The fields just came uncovered with snow early this week, they're still really wet," said Kennett Athletic Director Kerry Brady. "The teams are all outside, but some are still in the parking lot."

The Eagle tennis teams were out on the school's courts to start practice and the nets were going up at the end of last week after the squads used portable nets for the first few days.

"When was the last time we were on the tennis courts from the beginning," Brady queried.

The Kennett softball team has been making the short trip to the Conway Recreation Department to use the field there for practice, while baseball and boys' lacrosse continue to utilize the parking lots as they wait for the fields to dry out a bit.

The Eagle track team was on the track surface from the beginning, though the area inside and around the track isn't quite ready for use. The track itself actually had snow and ice in the far corner when practices started Monday, but Brady noted it cleared out on Tuesday.

"I'll take it," she said of the ability to get outside and practice. "The JV baseball and softball didn't see a field before a game last year, so there's a big difference."

She noted that the Kennett Middle School fields are also still wet like the high school facilities, but the Eagles weren't far from being able to get out on the fields and go.

"You put 80 degrees in the mix and everyone's quite excited," Roux said.

The first official games of the spring season are tennis matches on April 2, with the Plymouth and Prospect boys and girls and the Kingswood boys all seeing action. The Kingswood girls join the fray on April 4.

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at sportsgsn@salmonpress.com or 569-3126

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