Spring sports: Postponements piling up

by Tom Coombe -

Ely’s high school gymnasium has been one of the busiest places in town this week.
Tuesday afternoon, right after school, members of the Timberwolves’ softball team loosened their arms while the boys track team stretched out.
About 50 feet away in the “small” gym giant nets were set up as Ely’s golfers practiced their first shots of the year.
Call it unfettered optimism, true dedication, or sheer lunacy, but spring sports in Ely are underway - even if Mother Nature has decided that winter should stick around well into April.
By Monday, some area teams will begin their fifth week of practice while others start their fourth with no end of gymnasium time in sight - at least for baseball, softball and golf participants.
Already, the 2018 season has been disrupted by a rash of postponements, starting with Thursday’s season-opening track meet at Nashwauk-Keewatin and continuing this week with softball and baseball games scrapped while fields remain blanketed by snow.
It’s not uncommon for high school spring sports to be delayed in the Ely area - five years ago the Timberwolves didn’t play a home baseball game until May - but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
The Ely teams haven’t played a game or had a meet yet but they’ve all perhaps faced their toughest opponents - boredom and monotony.
“We have been trying to do different things in the gym but it gets a bit frustrating knowing we can’t get a whole lot accomplished,“ said Tom McDonald, Ely’s high school softball coach.
Indoor practices limit the Ely teams, particularly baseball and softball given the size of the school’s gymnasium and the lack of an indoor batting cage.
Ely’s baseball players went up to Vermilion Community College earlier in the week for some batting cage work, but the Wolves can get rather crowded indoors.
With over 40 players participating in grades 7-12, longtime coach Frank Ivancich has divided the squad into three separate groups, further stretching available gym time.
Three softball games set for next week, including Monday and Friday home tilts, are already casualties of the weather while contests set for the week of Apr. 16 may be wishful thinking at best.
Ely’s baseball team doesn’t have a home game until Apr. 24, but even that’s an iffy proposition given a still frozen field and cool temperatures -and perhaps even more snow - in the forecast.
The Wolves are keeping their fingers crossed that they’ll be able to play the weekend of Apr. 20-21, when they have games slated for Hinckley and the Twin Cities suburbs.
The golf team at Ely, part of a cooperative with neighboring Northeast Range, may be in an even tougher predicament than the baseball and softball teams.
Veteran coach Rob Simonich waited until after the Easter break to put up the nets and begin workouts, but he conceded this week that it may be May before area courses are open and the golfers can hit the links for East Range Conference meets.
That should make for a sprint of a regular season, as section play begins May 23.
At Vermilion Community College, the regular seasons end even earlier, including early-May for a softball team that has yet to play a game and May 12 for a baseball team that has had its only action a month ago in Florida.
The Ironmen have already lost eight Minnesota games to weather and more could pile up this week. Their conference-opening series with Mesabi, set for Apr. 13-14, has been moved to artificial turf facilities in Duluth and Superior.
There have been years where Vermilion teams have gone the entire spring without a home game and that could happen again in 2018, particularly in softball.
The late spring has been difficult as well for Ely’s track teams, but for the boys and girls there may be some light at the end of the tunnel.
Both teams are holding out hope that an Apr. 12 meet at Chisholm, on that community’s all-weather track, will go on as scheduled.
“We’re crossing our fingers and hoping we get a warm day,” said Will Helms, who coaches Ely’s boys track team.
Both track teams have jogged around the snowbanks and avoided the ice while conducting workouts on Ely’s streets, but Helms said the weather has been an obstacle for them as well.
“It’s a real challenge because the melt is so slow,” said Helms. “We tend to try to go outdoors about half of the time and take the pounding off of the hallways in the school. If it snows we’re stuck inside and we do relay races and work on technique.”