Putting together a season schedule is a tough endeavor for high school athletic directors. But when a game is postponed, a whole new set of inconveniences pop up.
One team might have a three-day window to fit it in a reschedule, while the other is on the road. A free Saturday night for one school might be prom night for the other.
“No one wants to cancel because it is a headache,” said Brian Hardy, athletic director at Valley High School. “It’s a headache for everybody.”
Depending on the season, some sports go through their respective seasons with minimal interruptions. But ugly weather, icy roads, unhealthy air quality and faulty facilities can make scheduling a logistical nightmare.
“That’s when the life of an AD becomes really stressful,” said Ted Reynolds, athletic director at Twin Falls.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, coaches and athletic directors almost universally agree: rain is the most likely weather event to wreak havoc on outdoor sports.
It’s so common, in fact, athletic departments have found ways to work around it.
Many football stadiums are built with a “crown,” or a raised area in the middle of the field. The small contour helps water drain off the field and prevent pooling.
“Our football field, it can pour, but it has such a great draining system that it flows right off,” said Canyon Ridge athletic director Lonnie Ahlquist. “Our soccer field does not.”
The Riverhawks’ baseball and softball fields don’t have crown features either, making those sports more susceptible to rain-cancelled games than football.
Even if the weather at the time of cancellation is clear, athletic directors are tasked with making a judgement call based on the forecast.
“We catch a little guff sometimes as ADs and administrators because we have to make that call in the morning,” Ted Reynolds said. “We’re always gonna err on the side of safety.”
While trying to avoid cancellations, some — especially baseball teams — have found creative approaches to make fields playable.
One day during the 2014 American Legion season, heavy rain pummeled Burley’s baseball field. Instead of going home, the Green Sox used squeegees to push the water off the field, and used torch burners to dissolve puddles that had formed in the dirt.
Many baseball teams, especially at the college and professional levels, roll out tarps to protect the infield from rain, and will wait hours for first pitch.
But sometimes, the rain is too steady and heavy to keep the floodgates closed.
“Give us snow,” said Burley head baseball coach Devin Kunz. “The rain’s the worst.”
Despite its typically dry climate, the Magic Valley still occasionally receives large dumps of snow. That can make life especially difficult for local sports teams.
Jerome High School, for instance, held its first Tim Matthews Invitational last December during an unusually snowy year. The event was intended to bring teams from across the state under a single roof to wrestle for trophies and pride. The only problem: snowstorms impeded travel.
“We had a couple of teams from eastern Idaho who couldn’t even make it because there was just too much snow,” said Kaly Gillette-Shippen, former Jerome athletic director. “We actually had to move from a one-day to two-day tournament because of the snow.”
Snow can be an even bigger issue when Magic Valley teams travel out of region, as Jerome’s baseball team found out in the second inning of a 2013 game in Mountain Home.
Mike McDonald, head coach of Jerome’s junior varsity baseball team at the time, said the game started with no concern about the weather.
“It was blue sky and everything,” he said. “(Then) I remember the clouds rolled in, and at one point it snowed so hard you couldn’t see the right fielder from home plate. Imagine trying to see a white ball in all that.
“A player would hit a hard ground ball and it would go about eight feet. It looked like part of a snowman when it got done rolling.”
Even Blaine County schools like Wood River that welcome snow as a part of everyday life will inevitably have a few games cancelled. Wood River is more than an hour’s drive for most of the other teams in the Great Basin Conference, and weather conditions often change drastically along the way.
“Generally, we call the game because of snow before it happens,” said athletic director Kevin Stilling. “We don’t want a worst-case scenario.”
Snow and ice aren’t just confined to the winter either. In the fall of 2011, the Wolverines’ football team made a grim discovery during the week leading up to a home game: the field was so icy, the team couldn’t practice on it.
“I mean, we couldn’t even walk on the football field,” Stilling said. “It was just a sheet of ice. That week, we actually practiced in the parking lot.”
But Wood River is so inundated by snow and ice that when games are cancelled for them, students generally use the snow to their advantage.
“Our kids kind of laugh about it because they’re used to it,” he said. “When (a game) gets cancelled, they usually have a reason to go skiing or something.”
Wendell boys soccer coach Roger Johnson has been a high school coach since the 1970s, and he said he’s only been a part of three cancelled games. One was scratched because of lightning. Another — this fall — was derailed by poor air quality.
The third happened in 1985, when he was coaching at a U-18 soccer tournament in Seattle. Wind, a rare culprit for soccer, cancelled that game.
“They put the ball down for a corner kick and it’d go to the other side of the field,” Johnson said. “They couldn’t stop the ball for anything because they couldn’t control it.”
A few years ago, the Burley baseball team had to delay a game after a windstorm blew down one of the field’s fences, according to Kunz.
“We lost about $1,000-$1,500 worth of dirt,” he said. “It’s probably somewhere in Utah now.”
In May, Valley hosted the 1A District 4 track meet while the wind howled up to 50 miles per hour. Several runners, jumpers and throwers finished with either excellent or terrible results, depending on which direction the wind was blowing during their events. But the conditions weren’t deemed unplayable or unsafe, so the meet went on.
One outdoor sport, however, is especially prone to wind-caused cancellations — tennis.
Any outdoor sport that involves hitting or throwing a ball can be derailed by wind if it’s strong enough. But tennis has much less room to work with than most sports. Literally.
A tennis court is much smaller than a baseball diamond, a soccer pitch, a golf course or a football field. A tennis player must land his or her shots in precise spots on the course to avoid faults. Strong winds destroy any hopes of perfect placement.
“When you serve, you have to toss the ball up,” said Tiffany Moilan, head tennis coach at Canyon Ridge. “In the wind, it blows all over. It’s hard to keep the technique accurate.”
Tennis is also more sensitive to wet conditions than other sports. Moilan said 10 to 15 minutes of drizzle can delay a tennis match by an hour and a half, because of dangerously slippery court conditions. Rain and wind also wreck players’ grip of their rackets.
“Feel is so important,” Moilan said. “You can’t wear gloves when you play tennis. People don’t realize that. It’s not like a baseball bat.”
Moilan would like to move high school tennis to the warmer fall months, and indoor courts would be a dream. But discussions of moving tennis to the fall have gone nowhere, Moilan said, and indoor courts are expensive.
So for the foreseeable future, high school tennis season in Idaho will begin when snow is still on the ground. And a handful of matches will always be lost because of wet, windy conditions.
“We lose players, too, because we don’t have indoor facilities during the winter,” Moilan said. “It’s a tough sport to attract and keep them in our area.”
In early September, sporting events around the Magic Valley were cancelled despite 90-degree weather and cloudless skies.
Forest fires from the region had formed a thick haze, making the air quality poor. Soccer was the most affected, but football, swimming and cross country teams were also forced to cancel.
Rescheduling a game is often more complicated than simply picking a day on which both teams are free.
The Highland football team was scheduled to play at fellow 5A powerhouse Capital on Sept. 8, but the schools decided to cancel it because of the dangerous Boise air. Highland offered to host Capital at the domed Holt Arena, but the Eagles declined, according to the Idaho State Journal.
Capital didn’t publicly specify why it preferred to skip the nonconference game instead of play it, but the decision made sense financially. The Eagles would have sacrificed ticket revenue and added travel costs for the 240-mile drive from Boise to Pocatello.
“That’s a $4,000 to $5,000 swing,” said Ty Jones, executive director of the Idaho High School Activities Association.
Forest and brush fires aren’t new to Idaho, but few coaches or athletic directors in the Magic Valley can remember a time before this fall when the air quality was poor enough to force people indoors.
“We’ve played in haze,” Johnson said, “but nothing where air quality was bad like that.”
Even if a program is fully prepared for exterior conditions, sometimes an interior problem derails a sporting event.
Roofs leak. Lights fail. Sprinkler systems won’t shut off. In the Magic Valley, all of the above have happened recently.
The Dietrich boys’ basketball team encountered this firsthand back in 2010. In an early-season tournament, the Blue Devils cruised past Garden Valley in the first round 58-29 to reach the championship game against Butte County.
The only problem: the lights wouldn’t come on for the Saturday matchup. A power outage hit the area minutes before the game.
“The crazy thing is Butte County was just on the bus and headed out when the power came back on,” Dietrich head coach Wayne Dill said.
A more permanent problem – lack of lights – is also more common.
Community School, for instance, built its soccer field more than a decade ago under one stipulation.
“A prerequisite for the stadium’s construction was that there couldn’t be stadium lights or floodlights,” said Richard Whitelaw, the Cutthroats’ athletic director and head boys soccer coach. “It’s in a residential area, so they didn’t want bright lights shining on the neighborhood.”
Rarely has Whitelaw had to cancel a game, but such circumstances arose in a 2015 boys district semifinal against Wendell. With both teams tied at one goal apiece, the teams pushed into second overtime. Eight minutes in, the looming darkness required officials to call the game.
“Our plan is to always try to schedule the games early enough,” Whitelaw said, “but in this case, the game dragged on for some time.”
Displaced water can also wreak havoc on indoor facilities, as Idaho State University men’s basketball knows all too well.
Facing off last January against Weber State, a program with two NCAA tournament appearances in the last four years, the Bengals fell into an early 13-2 hole. Before they had a chance to rally back, water began to drip from the ceiling.
An hour-long stoppage in play wouldn’t be long enough to fix the issue, which turned out to be snow melting from a ventilation system. The game had to be suspended.
Occasionally, the issues aren’t the result of bad facilities, but rather, just misfortune.
Such was the case in an American Legion baseball game last summer involving the Twin Falls Blackhawks and the Jerome Cyclones. Jerome head coach Mike McDonald and Twin Falls head coach Dave Slotten showed up at the Blackhawks’ field to find the sprinklers were still on and the field was flooded.
Stories like these are why districts fight for big money to improve facilities, especially in rural areas of the Magic Valley.
Wendell School District tried and failed to secure funding to replace its high school’s 40-year-old roof four times between 2014 and 2016 before finally securing a $600,000 levy that would cover most of the cost.
Before then, district maintenance supervisor Ken Pressley told the Times-News his crews kept the gym open by patching, living “from leak to leak.”
The Canyon Ridge girls soccer team was scheduled to play at Madison on Aug. 18, and the boys were set to host Madison on Aug. 18 and Rigby the following day. But the Rigby and Madison athletic directors called Ahlquist early that month to cancel the games, fearing impassable traffic because of the solar eclipse on Aug. 21. Both schools were in the path of totality.
Traffic in Idaho turned out to be fairly tame until the day of the eclipse, so the nonconference games could have been played without trouble. But in early August, hundreds of thousands of tourists were expected to drive through Idaho, and few could predict how the roads would handle the once-in-a-lifetime event.
“Better to err on the side of caution,” Ahlquist said.
Jerome athletic director Jeremy Munroe has seen games cancelled because they coincided with players’ pre-planned hunting trips. Ty Jones recalled an American Falls-Marsh Valley football game that was postponed after a semi-trailer truck ran into a power pole, shutting off the stadium lights for hours. Years ago, Valley lost access to running water throughout the school after a well went out, according to athletic director Brian Hardy.
Sometimes, games are cancelled for a lack of officials or players.
A few years ago, Devin Kunz’s Green Sox won a legion game in extra innings by forfeit. An opposing player had been ejected, and the team didn’t have a replacement, so the game was called.
“We won the game, but it felt like kissing your sister,” Kunz said.
This issue tends to affect small schools the most. Camas County, for instance, forfeited a football game last month because injuries shrunk its already tiny 1A Division II roster.
Some small schools have kept sports alive by forming cooperatives. The Bliss boys soccer team, for example, includes players from Bliss, Glenns Ferry, Hagerman and Shoshone high schools.
Not every school has that co-op option. Each game, sometimes each season, hinges on the school’s enrollment and students’ willingness to try out of a sport.
“That’s something I didn’t notice 10-15 years ago,” Hardy said. “Some towns are dwindling, losing population overall. I think part of it is kids aren’t going out for as many activities.”
Battling the headache
Sometimes athletic directors spend an entire day laboring over whether or not to cancel a sporting event. Once they do decide to cancel, they inform the coaches and work quickly to contact officials, maintenance crews, concession workers, fans and bus drivers, to name a few.
After that, they try to fit a makeup date into a busy school calendar, while also considering factors like competitive balance and cost.
Reschedule dates are often limited. A nonconference game doesn’t have to be made up, but a conference game almost always does. That’s especially true of postseason games, which have schedules that range from a couple of weeks to a mere couple of days.
When a game is finally rescheduled, the teams can only hope that conditions don’t turn sour again. If something again goes awry, athletic directors have to find a make-up date for the make-up date.
In cases of bad weather, the decision to postpone a game is often made hours before game time, especially when the road team is traveling from far away.
“You try to make a decision at a decent time so the other team’s not already on their way,” Hardy said. “You make a decision, and suddenly there’s sun, rainbows, and you look like an idiot.”