Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 21, 2014

When winter strikes

Weather forces teams to make adjustments

By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — While many teachers and students rejoice when school is called off due to winter weather, it also means a shutdown of basketball games in many counties.

High school coaches have prepared for the tendencies of their opponents and have spent lots of practice time getting the students ready for the next important contest — and then there’s no game.

So what’s a coach to do?

“Catch up with laundry,” Montcalm High varsity girls coach Cindy Havens said on Tuesday with a smile in her voice. She added, “I try to think about when we can get back in the gym. It could be a day, or two, depending on the weather. You’ve just got to take it a day at a time.”

Matt Smith, Montcalm’s varsity boys coach, said about postponements, “In my case, I’m very fortunate. I have a 1-year-old that keeps me occupied when I’m at home. I want to be at a game, competing, but (a postponement) gives me time to be with my family, and that’s important.”

He said, “It is a disappointment when you don’t get to play, especially the kids. They get tired of practice. It’s tough when you prepare for a game and then you don’t play.”

The head man of the Graham G-Men, Glynn Carlock Jr., said, “We just try to allow our guys to get, hopefully, a little bit of extra rest. This is a grindstone part of the season, at this time of the year.”

Tracy Raban, the varsity girls coach at Graham, said, “As a coach, I don’t like it. I want to be at a game.”

Instead, she said, “We try to get in the gym and get a practice in, but ... if we went this morning, it could have been a case of sending them right back home once they got there. When it hit, it hit today.”

“We try to look at the positive,” she said. “Sometimes it helps us gives kids a chance to think about what we need to do, a chance to focus ... . It helps us get some rest and our kids, they handle it better instead of being constantly in the gym.”

Bluefield High boys coach Buster Large, after calling in two rescheduled dates for the benefit of Daily Telegraph readers, said that for him, “Obviously, there’s a lot of phone calls. It starts with the principal, (then players, and) officials, media, radio personnel.”

“It’s something you get used to over the years, but it takes a lot of time.”

The goal is to let fans know about postponements, so they “are not to be out on the road, for safety,” Large said. “It’s better off, the safety of everybody. The athletes, the fans, the officials, everyone involved.”

It’s not necessarily a day off for the BHS players and coaches, though.

“When we don’t play, we normally end up practicing,” Large said. “That’s been our game plan for the last six years. We try to get a practice in ... weather permitting.”

Havens said travel on snowy roads is a problem “for a lot of teams, because of where kids live,” Havens said. In rural areas around Montcalm and many similar communities, roads are not cleared as quickly as four-lane highways.

Getting the word to team members about a cancellation or postponement used to be a long series of phone calls. Social media has changed all that for many prep programs.

Carlock said, “The easiest way to do it now is a mass text message. We do that immediately for our team, and then try to let our student body and people in the community know.”

“First, we have a school program on rSchool,” a software product used by Graham High School, he said. “It sends out text messages and emails automatically once a game is postponed.”

He said he also uses Twitter messages to inform the team and student body. Messages appear on the school pages and the G-Men team page of the website as well.

Havens said, “I normally have a contact and that contact gets a-hold of them. We can also send a group email message.”

Raban said also gets the word out via text message, but with a twist that provides a leadership experience for her captains.

“Instead of making 20 phone calls, we have a little phone system among our team. I send a message to the co-captains, and they relay it to the rest of the team. It teaches them a little bit about life down the road.”

“I’m all about preparing them for the future,” she said. “They’ll find they’ve got to be able to communicate with teammates, with co-workers. It helps prepare them for after (their school years) on down the road.”

Well before the first basketball game in the fall, Smith has already gone over the school policy with his team. The general rule in Mercer County public schools states that if school is called off for the day, the team cannot play on that day.

“That’s taken care of, ahead of time,” Smith said. “We have times set up for snow days. Unless it’s really bad out, they know when they’re supposed to practice.”

He said, “We have very strict rules about how we’re supposed to communicate (between teacher and student). We send out a mass message to all the players.”

“We’ve been out of school on average 10 to 12 days,” due to wintry conditions, he said. “It is something that comes up frequently. It is something we talk about, and they know.”

“There was no point in having the kids on the road today.”

This season, the Montcalm boys have played just six games. Smith said about making those games up, “It is difficult, because you get in the last month of the season, and you’re trying to fit in all the rescheduled games and regularly-scheduled games.”

“You also have to work with the schedule of (your opponent). The other team has to match it up with a date that they’re free.”

He said, “Fortunately, we’ve been able to reschedule everything. It makes it harder to play three or four nights a week, instead of the traditional two.”

“That’s especially hard in Single-A, where you travel so much. You’re on the road 2, 2 -and-a-half hours to get to the school you’re playing. That takes its toll on everybody.”

Havens said, “You can’t always get all of them re-scheduled. ... You do best you can. We play them and hope for the best.”

Carlock said, “At this point, right now, it’s not bad. We’re OK. We’ll probably be playing three a week from here on out. But any more snowstorms (will) cause a problem. We would probably end up with non-conference games being canceled.”

“But right now, we’re fine.”

Raban said, “The positive you can find out of it is, if it’s canceled, and you have players who are injured or sick, it gives them a couple of days to recuperate and recover from injuries.”

Because of rescheduled games, she said, “Now you’re possibly going to have three or four games a week. You’ve got a deadline (to get the games in) and we’re cramming them all in at the end of the season. ... That makes it tough on the kids.”

Typically, she also saw an unexpected positive in that scenario.

“We have a young team,” she said. “My kids like to play games a lot more than they do practicing. ... We’ve only practiced about two days in the past two weeks — and we’ve won four games in a row.”

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com