For Prince William County high school athletes, spring has sprung -- a leak. With fields too wet to practice or play on, coaches had to pick their teams based on gym workouts or parking lot auditions.
Asking area activities directors how soon budding shortstops and hopeful midfielders might be able to feel grass under their feet spurs initial guffaws, then widely varying guesses as to when fields might be playable. Some say it might not be until April.
There has not yet been widespread schedule changes or game postponements based on the saturated conditions -- after all, most teams don't open their regular seasons until mid-March -- but ADs are aware trying to shoehorn all events into a compressed time frame might prove impossible. It could result in abbreviated schedules.
"There's a fantasy about being out in the spring, and it's 78 degrees, and the sun's beating down on you, and the wind is blowing through your hair," Brentsville AD Bill Cameron said. "It's one of those neat things. Right now, it's definitely a fantasy."
"There's no telling when we're going to be able to play on a field," said Hylton AD Jim Qualls, whose teams are practicing indoors for about two hours each. "After the last snow, I'm pushing [my estimation] to the first of April before we can even get outside to practice on afield."
Stonewall Jackson baseball coach Andy Devitt made his final cuts Tuesday after evaluating his players based on their performances in the school parking lot and in a batting cage in the gym.
"It kind of impairs you a little bit because every ground ball on a parking lot is smooth, and if you throw in the gym, the kids look like they're throwing harder," said Devitt, whose players are eager to start the season in earnest to erase memories of their 1-20 record from last spring.
Osbourn Park AD Dan Evans said soccer and lacrosse, for both boys and girls, might be the sports most affected by the soggy conditions because they're played on the football field. It's easier to treat the baseball and softball fields with drying agents.
"If we don't get out by March 24, you're probably looking at cutting back the season by a few games," said Evans, who has assigned teams practice space on the school's driver's education range and outdoor basketball courts. "We're hoping maybe if we can get out and get started by March 24 that it won't be necessary to cancel any of the games."
The soccer and lacrosse teams keep the football field tied up four nights a week as it is. Widespread postponements in those sports would cause a major logjam of rescheduled games.
"There's not enough days in a week to get it done," Qualls said. "There could be the possibility of losing both varsity and JV games. You just don't have the days to do them."
Beginning March 17 in Prince William County, the school day will be 30 minutes longer to help make up for the 13 days students missed because of snow and ice. But the extended class time could affect starting times for daytime events such as softball games, most of which are played in the mid-afternoon on fields without lights. Daylight Savings Time doesn't kick in until April 6.
The school that perhaps will be most affected by the lengthened school day is Brentsville, which plays many distant baseball and softball road games at schools without lighted fields.
"It's tough to get there [by 4] when you can't leave until 2:45," Cameron said. "The first couple games are going to be difficult, and I'm not sure how we're going to do that."
First-year Woodbridge girls' soccer coach Scott Kerns, who inherits a six-time defending Cardinal District championship team that had heavy graduation last spring, has considered contacting area indoor soccer facilities to try to get a larger playing surface for workouts.
The Vikings are scheduled to open the season March 18 at Mills Godwin near Richmond. When does Kerns expect to get his team outside on a grass surface for the first time?
"We're anticipating March 18 down at Mills Godwin," he said with a laugh. "I'd be surprised if we're on a field before that game."