BILLINGS — High school spring sports practice started on March 11.
And while teams in Billings have been eager to prepare, those sessions have been limited because facilities still have snow, or are drying out, after the brutal February and early March weather the region experienced.
For student-athletes participating in track and field, softball, or tennis, much of their time practicing has been spent indoors at their respective high schools’ gymnasiums.
“We do the best we can to help our teams and get the fields clear so our kids can get out and start preparing as soon as possible,” said School District 2 Director of Athletics and Activities Mark Wahl. “There are a lot of dynamics. We want to be fair and equitable to all the schools.”
While the tennis teams have “found some practice time” at the indoor courts at the Elks Lodge, for the most part those squads, along with the softball and track teams, have been working out indoors at their respective high schools.
Billings Central AD Richy Powell said the Rams tennis team has also been able to make use of the courts at the Elks a couple times, but most of the teams are practicing in the Ralph Nelles Activities Center.
“The gym is busy until 9:30 (p.m.),” Powell said.
While it can be hard to emulate the sports of spring indoors, the teams are working with the circumstances.
“It’s the best we can do right now. … They are limited with what they can do, but it’s the best we can do,” Powell said.
There has been a warming trend in Billings, but the temperature was in the upper 30s on Thursday afternoon and reports for Friday predicted a high of 42 degrees.
“They might be outside for a short period of time, but the temperatures are not conducive to practicing outdoors,” Wahl said.
Under Montana High School Association rules, the first day teams can compete in tennis, track or softball is March 22. The hope is expected warmer temperatures next week will help speed up the process of melting the remaining snow and drying out the fields.
“We’ll deal with the scheduling issues as they come up,” Wahl said. “Hopefully this clears out quickly and we’ll be on the field.”
The high school teams aren’t alone in battling the weather as both Montana State Billings and Rocky Mountain College athletes are also competing and training.
Both the Montana State University Billings baseball and softball teams were to play their home openers this weekend. The Yellowjackets play their home baseball games at Dehler Park and their softball games at Avitus Group Stadium, both of which were unplayable.
Now, the Yellowjackets’ baseball team will host Central Washington on Saturday and Sunday in a pair of Great Northwest Athletic Conference doubleheaders scheduled to start at noon both days at the high school field in Cowley, Wyoming.
The Jackets’ baseball series with Saint Martin’s the following weekend was also moved from Dehler Park to Lacey, Washington. The Saints-Jackets series scheduled for April 6-7 will now be played at Dehler and is scheduled to be MSUB’s home opener.
“The rest of the schedule should be the same if the weather cooperates,” said MSUB AD Krista Montague.
As for the softball team, the Jackets games with Western Oregon on Saturday and Sunday in Billings have been postponed. The Jackets will visit Concordia University (Oregon) on April 6-7 and will make the trip to Western Oregon on April 8 to make up for one of the lost twin bills. The other date with the Wolves might not be able to be rescheduled, Montague said.
Dehler Park, home of the Billings Mustangs, is not operated by MSUB.
The MSUB softball team will now have its home opener April 13-14 vs. Central Washington.
“It is so frustrating," Montague said. "Our facilities are working to get some snow off the softball field to help it dry out, but it wouldn’t be ready to play."
“It’s been challenging,” Montague added. “We’re doing the best we can. There’s not much you can do. Our coaches are really positive.
“They can’t run their athletes through the practices. It is out of our control and we do the best we can. This happened last year, too, and baseball still won the conference.”
While the spring weather has been difficult — the track team has been practicing inside, or when it can outdoors at Skyview — Montague is looking forward to the GNAC softball championships May 2-4 at Avitus Group Stadium. The host team isn't guaranteed a tournament berth, so the Yellowjackets will have to be among the top four teams in the league to qualify.
“I’m hoping some of the youth girls come out and watch,” Montague said.
Rocky Mountain College is scheduled to begin spring football with its first drills on Friday on the artificial turf at Herb Klindt Field.
“The field is clear,” said RMC interim AD Jeff Malby. “They plowed the snow. It took them a whole week and it’s green. It’s the only green spot in town.
“Our facilities guys were amazing last week.”
The track teams have been practicing indoors at the Fortin Center and have also been able to spend a little time on the Herb Klindt Field, said Malby. The Yellowjacket/Battlin’ Bears Open is March 30 at the Laurel Sports Complex.
Malby said Rocky is blessed to have a facility like Herb Klindt.
“It’s a life saver,” he said. “Without it, we’d be like the guys who want to golf now.”