Surrounded by six-foot high snowbanks and wearing multiple layers that were still no match for a biting wind, the St. Dom’s tennis team practiced on their courts for the first time this spring.

High school teams across the state also opened the spring season on the first day of practice Monday. But the vast majority did so indoors, regardless of sport.

The Saints braved the elements and ventured outside.

“It’s supposed to be nice the rest of the week,” St. Dom’s tennis coach Dan Cullen said. “When you can practice outside, it’s so much better than inside, especially when you’ve got so many kids.”

The Saints needed all hands on deck to get their courts ready for Monday. The team spent an entire Saturday in mid-March shoveling snow and ice off all four courts.

“We’ve done that every year, but this was by far the worst,” Cullen said. “The ice was so deep it was insane. But the kids worked hard and did a great job.”

Parents raised money to create a gate in the fence surrounding the courts so a small tractor could be brought in to move snow. Whenever there was a thaw, Cullen would chip away at ice in the pole settings so nets could be set up.

Without that work, not only would the Saints not be practicing on the courts this week, Cullen believes they wouldn’t be able to play a match until after April vacation, because the courts don’t get much sunlight.

The Saints hope they won’t have to do any more shoveling this spring, but athletic directors across the state are dealing with the damage Mother Nature has already done.

“We’ve been spoiled the last few winters because it hasn’t been really cold and we haven’t had a ton of snow,” St. Dom’s AD Gene Keene said. “This year, we had an old fashioned Maine winter.”

The results of that old fashioned Maine winter can be seen on the playing fields, or perhaps not until all of the snow melts.

Opening day for all sports is April 17, although some schools won’t officially start until the following week, during April vacation.

Keene said Mountain Valley Conference athletic directors have already discussed making schedule changes if fields are unplayable when the season starts. Teams might trade home dates if they meet twice in a season, or a game could be moved to the visitor’s site if it is playable and it can’t otherwise be rescheduled.

The Maine Principals’ Association hasn’t discussed making any changes to the spring season, “but should the weather and field conditions prove to be an issue, I am sure we would do something,” assistant executive director Mike Burnham said.

Games are a concern for down the road. Preparing for the season is the more pressing issue.

St. Dom’s tennis team may be the only one that gets to practice on its own turf before the season starts, Keene said.

“I really don’t anticipate getting on our fields until April vacation, at the earliest,” he said.

Indoor practices may not be ideal, but at least they’re an alternative for most schools. Mountain Valley athletes were wondering whether they would be able to practice inside Puiia Gymnasium on Monday due to the dozens of leaks it sprung over the winter.

“We’re really struggling right now with our gym situation,” Mountain Valley athletic director Al Cayer said. “Our custodians are hanging 25×15 pieces of plastic to divert the water to the sides of the gym. The gym has very diffused lighting and all of the plastic kind of makes it look like we’ve got open parachutes hanging from the ceiling.”

The school still held tryouts for several sports in the driest part of the gym on Monday, but practice times were limited to a little over an hour per sport. Tennis tryouts were held at the middle school at 6 a.m. to get everything in.

Cayer said softball already cancelled a doubleheader scrimmage it had with Fryeburg Academy on Saturday and he anticipated baseball and softball exhibitions with Spruce Mountain scheduled for next Wednesday also getting nixed.

There is good news. Cayer inspected the Hosmer Field complex over the weekend and said the track is in good shape. The baseball and softball fields should turn the corner if the sun and seasonable temperatures forecast for the rest of the week arrive.

But while there are signs winter’s grip is loosening, there are reminders the transition into spring isn’t going to be easy.

“We got hammered here with snow in western Maine,” Cayer said. “We get as much snow here as they do at Sunday River, and they’re still open.”


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