By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
The early portions of Quincy Notre Dame's Wednesday softball practice didn't feature fielding, hitting or base running drills.
Instead, the Lady Raiders walked the outfield, clumping down the snow that covered the grass in hopes it would melt faster so QND could host a Thursday game against Liberty. They also took a break for a little snowball fight.
"Days like these, it's field maintenance more than practice," QND sophomore second baseman Jennie Polak said.
There have been plenty of days like that this spring, which has featured cold, windy, rainy and even snowy conditions that have severely limited the number of Illinois baseball and softball and Missouri baseball games and practices.
When teams have practiced, it's usually been indoors, where it is difficult to work on a full range of skills.
"There is such limited space to throw and hit (indoors)," Polak said.
Even with this spring's weather, Polak agrees with several veteran baseball and softball coaches in the area who believe spring is the best time to play baseball in Missouri and baseball and softball in Illinois.
"We have to roll with the punches. I've always said we're never out of the woods until after Easter," Pittsfield coach John Schultz said. "This will be here and gone, and we'll all be at it soon."
Iowa's prep baseball and softball seasons begin with practices in late April for baseball and early May for softball and conclude with state championships in late July.
Yet, QND softball coach Eric Orne, Payson Seymour softball coach Jeff Zanger, Palmyra baseball coach Mark Loman and Schultz — four coaches who have 70 years of experience combined — all agreed the downsides of moving their sports to the summer would outweigh the benefits of more conducive weather.
"I think things are fine the way they are," Schultz said. "I like change, but I don't think that would be a good thing. This is an unusual year. It really is."
Moving baseball and softball to the summer would mean competing with family vacations, summer jobs and sports and church camps.
"I think we'd lose players," Zanger said. "June and July for the athletes right now is just jammed. I can't imagine putting something else in there."
This year's cold and wet spring won't spark a knee-jerk reaction from the Illinois High School Association or Missouri State High School Activities Association.
Matt Troha, an assistant executive director for the IHSA and the IHSA's media relations manager, and Jason West, MSHSAA's communications director, both said there have been no discussions in recent years about moving bat and ball sports to the summer.
Missouri's softball season is in the fall, which usually yields drier weather but forces some female athletes to choose between softball and a variety of other fall sports. That's not as big of an issue in Northeast Missouri, where volleyball isn't prevalent. West said the main change to a bat and ball sport that MSHSAA has considered is adding a spring softball championship. Some schools in Missouri are already playing spring softball, he said, but no championship is offered then.
Troha, who also serves as the administrator to the IHSA's softball advisory committee, said there are several reasons bat and ball sports are best positioned in the spring, including:
º The weather is usually nice for the postseason, which starts in May.
º School administrators and coaches like having summers free of athletics.
º There's tradition of those sports being in the spring.
º The prevalence of summer ball outside of preps.
All four area coaches interviewed pointed toward that last reason as a key argument for keeping the status quo.
"Everybody wants to play more games, but in the long run, the kids who like baseball, they're going to play in the summer anyway," Loman said. "They're in summer programs. They're playing 60-70 games anyway."
Plus, Loman said moving a prep sport to the summer would further add to an issue he already sees occurring: kids not having time to enjoy the summer months.
"Kids in the summer, in my opinion, need to be kids," Loman said. "They need to have time to do things other than just sports."
And already, kids in the area are spending a lot of their summertime playing sports.
"You would have so many conflicting schedules with basketball and volleyball camps and all those other things," Orne said. "I think it would be hard to get a group of girls who would stay focused (for a prep softball season in the summer)."
With the general consensus being that springtime is best for Missouri baseball and Illinois baseball and softball, coaches understand they must be prepared to deal with weather like they've experienced this March.
"You're at the mercy of Mother Nature," Orne said.
Polak is willing to accept that.
"I like it in the spring," she said. "In the fall, it's cold then too. Usually the spring doesn't have this. In the summer, we pretty much all play on a travel team. So the spring is the best time to play."