by Jim Riggs
April 7, 2007
The Sprint And The Marathon
This is nothing new for spring sports coaches who, mainly because of inclement weather, expect their seasons to be filled with numerous postponements and then be crammed into a little more than a month. This is particularly true of baseball and softball.
And when it comes to softball, I noticed there are three area coaches who also coach basketball, which has the longest high school season. After starting practice on Nov. 1, basketball, depending on playoff success, can finish in early to late March. It can be a long grind.
Then suddenly softball practice begins in the gym on March 1 to prepare for a schedule that starts, weather permitting (which is rare), in late March. After weather postponements and vacations, the season usually doesn’t get rolling until mid-April and then, thanks to all the delays, gets crammed into a little more than a month.
That has to be quite a change for those three coaches following a four-month basketball season.
“It’s two different worlds,“ said Jamestown softball and girls basketball coach Ken Ricker. “Basketball is long and it’s definitely the marathon. The real big difference is in basketball you can do a lot during the season. In basketball you go through a Thanksgiving break, Christmas break and with our split spring vacation, you go through three breaks. So you have so much practice time and it’s so long a season you can see a lot more improvement. In softball, all your preparation has to be done before you go outside.”
And a softball coach never knows when that will be.
“We got outside for the first time last Friday (March 31) which was our first game,” Ricker said. “We’ve been in a gym where we can’t use hard balls, we’re using softer balls. We hadn’t touched a real ball basically and all of a sudden you’re into a game.”
And when a softball game is rained out, it also means the team can’t practice outside. In contrast, if a basketball game is postponed because of the weather, the teams can still practice.
“Even when you get into the season, when you can’t play it’s usually because of a rainout and you don’t want to go back indoors (to practice) once you’ve been out,” Ricker said about softball. “So it’s really important to get that preparation down.”
Dave Polechetti, who has coached boys basketball for 20 years and softball for 17 at Fredonia, said, “It’s something that I’ve been able to handle over the years. There’s no doubt about it, once basketball season ends, as a coach you certainly have reached a point where you’ve experienced a lot of fatigue and wear and tear. Sometimes we have a week in between when you can recharge your battery.”
And then it’s right into softball.
“There’s no question about it, you don’t have that much time to prepare,” he said. “But when you think about the game of baseball and the game of softball compared to basketball, I suppose you’re comparing apples to oranges. But in the sense of getting ready for a basketball season, you have a lot more Xs and Os in a basketball season to deal with and a lot more situations than in a softball season.”
Ricker agreed and said, “In basketball you have to be more strategic in your planning of practice. You don’t want to wear them out and you don’t want it (the season) to seem so long. In softball you’re at the mercy of the weather.”
Curt Fischer is the boys basketball coach at Maple Grove and has returned to coaching softball this season. And he also pointed to the contrasts in the seasons.
“That gets monotonous after a while,” he said about basketball games and practice. But when it comes to the softball season, “It’s so quick it’s mind boggling.”
The Maple Grove softball season is on hold for two weeks because of spring vacation.
“For us, we’ve got a two-week break and I’ve got only about four girls here (still in the area),” Fischer said. “We got three games in, we’ve got two weeks off and then we come back and we play on the Monday (April 16) we come back (to school). It’s worse than starting over in some ways because their arms haven’t been throwing. It’s just a strange situation. It’s hard to get 100 percent out of the girls.”
Some teams go on southern trips and play a lot of games there, but often they return to Western New York they can end up facing a week of postponements because of the weather.
“It’s certainly beneficial to be able to do that (go south), but there’s been years when we’ve beaten teams that just returned from being down there and we hadn’t been out much during the break here,” Polechetti noted.
Another big difference in basketball and softball season is slumps. In softball, a team can’t really afford one.
“If you have a bad week in basketball, you lose maybe a game or two,” Ricker said. “A bad week in softball can mean four or five losses. If it’s sunny outside, you’re playing a lot of games.”
He added, “We had three or four girls this year miss a week of (basketball) practice for sickness and that wasn’t a big deal. Two starters missed one game and they were out for a week. If you miss a week because you’re sick in softball, you might miss four or five games.”
But all three coaches admitted that having such a short softball season seems to keep their players attentive.
“They do seem to stay pretty focused for that reason,” Polechetti said about the shortness of the softball season.
Fischer noted, “You wished you had more time. You’re learning on the fly so the girls are constantly into it. Every time you tell them something you can see them absorbing information and they really enjoy that.”
Polechetti noted that the shorter softball season might be a good thing.
“You do have a little more time to prepare for the basketball season and you do have more practices,” he said, “I think if the nature of the sport was different and more demanding for softball, then I would say it would be very difficult to handle.”
The most difficult thing to handle now is the 12 inches of snow on the ground. The league seasons are supposed to begin on April 16. The snow might be gone, but how dry will the fields be?
For Ricker, Polechetti and Fischer, it looks for sure they will have a sprint softball season after a marathon basketball campaign.