By Kallie Hoffman
The start of spring brings new flowers and leaves, chirping birds and buzzing bees, but while we anticipate the natural beauty of our landscape, we also look forward to another season of varsity and junior varsity athletics at the high school. Mother Nature follows her own calendar, so for several weeks, our athletes will need to bundle up in layers of clothing at practice, gradually adjusting to a cold and wet playing surface, to a new coach and set of teammates, and to the dynamic of building a team chemistry. Unfortunately, Westchester County was hit by four major storms within a three week period, making it difficult to commute to school, let alone schedule a sports practice. Mountains of snow flooded streets and driveways, century-old trees toppled over and blocked access to traffic, power lines drifted aimlessly across roads and even front lawns, and homes were left without power for weeks at a time. County and town officials rushed to clear the area for emergency vehicles and fire trucks, and every effort was made to reopen the schools and to ensure students and teachers were safe and secure. Education was the first priority, at least at Byram Hills High School, and so there was not the time, money or manpower to clear all the snow and ice from the turf and grass fields and the outdoor track. Most athletes were left scrambling for a place to practice and fell weeks behind in their preparation for the start of the season.
A snow day or two over the course of the school year is always welcome by students, providing an opportunity to catch up on homework and sleep, spend time with family, and generally unwind from the rigors of a brutal schedule. Relaxation is therapeutic, but after the third or fourth canceled day of school, the prospect of a snow day is far less alluring. As a lacrosse player, this is especially true for student-athletes, who rely on the regularity of practice to condition their mind and body to perform at a maximum level. Losing a day or two of tryout week can be particularly vexing for a student trying to earn his or her way onto a team, as often it takes a full week for athletes to showcase their skills and work ethic and dedication to a team. The devastating storm that hit Westchester during the first week of March resulted in the cancellation of various tryouts for baseball, softball, girls and boys lacrosse, and track and field, and moved some practices into limited space within the two indoor gymnasiums. Sophomore Abby Siconolfi, a varsity softball athlete, described the snow as “bothersome because tryouts continued to get extended, and it was hard to notice the best players since we were in such a confined environment.” Coaches and players tried to make the best of a tough situation, and the Byram Hills Athletic Director offered creative solutions, such as transporting students to larger venues such as the Armonk Indoor bubble and Soundshore. Given the weather, Byram Hills athletes were placed at a significant disadvantage compared to teams who were able to practice outdoors on a clean playing surface. The result might be a slow start to the season, particularly for teams that are integrating younger players into the lineup and rely on early practice time to work cohesively as a unit.
Athletes have learned to be resilient over years of disciplined training. In the days that followed the first March snowstorm, players adjusted to their new practice facilities and regiments, but it was still evident that a return to the outdoors could not come soon enough. There were pockets of green sneaking through the slush of the turf field, but with more snow in the forecast, it might as well have been a leprechaun getting ready for St. Patrick’s Day. The last days of winter brought the first days of another storm, so instead of outdoor track for the sprinters, it was outdoor trucks of salt for the roads. Missed days of school resulted in a backlog of work and assignments, but missed days of practice put teams in danger of failing to comply with the section I rule that athletes must complete a minimum amount of training before they can compete in their first game. Senior Kyra Arrone, a varsity lacrosse athlete, was upset because it is her senior year and final opportunity to play high school sports. She lamented the fact “the coach had to schedule impromptu workout days on Sundays, and [her] scrimmage against Briarcliff was canceled.” Kyra will be back in action soon, but all of the athletes at Byram Hills may be more susceptible to injury for having missed out on some practice and training. Coaches may even need to be more patient as their players acclimate to the change in weather and playing surfaces. Expect athletes to be slightly more cautious in the first few days of competition.
Life in the Northeast has many advantages, but when it comes to sports, students from warm weather states do have a competitive edge by being able to practice and play games twelve months of the year. Nevertheless, the weather is outside of our control, and complaining about lost practice time does seem trivial when compared to the families who have had to survive without heat and hot water over the past few weeks. There is also a bright side to consider: the obnoxious kid who always wins the Easter egg hunt might actually lose this year if he is unable to find his way through the snow. Most importantly, this will all be a distant memory in a few months, just about the time our fall athletes start to complain about having to practice in the hot sun.