Tuesday, September 18, 2018

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No sporting chance: Winter weather’s refusal to leave Chippewa Valley delaying start of sports season

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    UW-Eau Claire football player Vince Coenen throws snow at teammate Brandon Rosado before the team played snow football on Monday in Carson Park. Although numerous sports leagues and golf courses have had to put off their seasons, the football team found a way Monday to enjoy the nearly 11½ inches of snow that fell on the Chippewa Valley over the weekend. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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    UW-Eau Claire football player Victor Martinelli, left, catches the ball while being defended by teammate Joe Lippe on Monday in Carson Park. The football team got permission from the city of Eau Claire to play snow football in the park after nearly 11½ inches of snow were dumped on the Chippewa Valley.

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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Almost a month into spring, winter’s stronghold on the Chippewa Valley has disrupted sporting event schedules by leaving courses and fields unusable and cutting into some seasons’ planned starts. 

In a rare snow event for mid-April, 11½ inches of snow dropped on Eau Claire from Friday through Sunday, according to the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, Minn.

Strong winds and gusts led to significant drifting. The average wind speed was highest on Saturday, with speeds up to 20 mph. Wind gusts were 36 mph Friday, 47 mph Saturday and 28 mph on Sunday.

Eau Claire Golf & Country Club’s general manager Glenn Thompson said before the weekend’s storm, the golf club had hoped to open the course by next week. That will now be postponed to probably the end of the month, he said.

“You learn in this business to worry about what you can control and not worry about what you can’t control,” he said, noting that three weeks to a month has now been chopped out of the already short golfing season. 

The spring pile-up of snow has proven troublesome for some spring youth leagues, some of which are supposed to begin the last week in April, said Dawn Comte, city recreation manager.

“Normally they’d be practicing already,” she said of private leagues that rent facilities from the city. “That’s completely affecting their practicing.”

She estimated that the fields won’t be ready for use for at least two weeks, allowing time for the snow to melt and the frost to come out of the ground.

“When the frost is coming out, the fields are mushy and soft, and you can do damage to the turf by being on them too early,” she said. Surprisingly, rain and wind are two elements needed to get frost out of the ground, she said.

“Everybody’s itching to get outside, and rightfully so,” she said, urging patience. “Last year at this time people were playing games.”

Chippewa Valley Youth Soccer League’s first games are scheduled Saturday, but the reality of that happening is looking unlikely, said Scott Hoffman, regional league commissioner.

He said rescheduling games for the 90 teams who are part of the league is a tough challenge and so is finding referees available to cover the games. Some teams’ coaches have found alternative indoor sites to play. 

“Otherwise, pretty much the whole league has been a bit stymied by this weather,” he said. “It looks like it’ll be another week before we can consider getting out on the grass and playing some youth soccer.”

Kris Chapman, president of Eau Claire Fastpitch Softball, called their league’s situation “fortunate” in that scheduling was pushed back two weeks out of concern that the frost wouldn’t be lifted from the ground by the beginning of May.

Instead the first games are scheduled for the week of May 14. 

Because the season’s start was pushed back, the all-star and playoff games won’t happen until after July 4, which Chapman said might pose a problem for families who want to leave for vacation. 

“There will be families not available, but at least the girls should be able to get league games in,” she said.

The fastpitch league has found some workarounds to winter’s long stay by practicing indoors. For example, the fastpitch league rented out gym space in elementary schools to practice. 

“All of that costs extra money for everyone to be able to that,” she said. “But when you have girls that want to play and coaches that are ready to go, that’s what you have to do.”

By Monday afternoon, roads were already beginning to clear, and more of that is expected, especially with continuous warm-ups forecast as the week continues. 

As for the weekend’s big storm, it should be cleared up by today, city streets manager Steve Thompson said. Cleanup began Sunday at midnight and was expected to finish Monday night. 

“There’s still snow and ice packed on residential streets, but that should loosen up and go away by the weekend,” Thompson said.

Although the city had already begun to sweep streets of sand and other debris, this snowfall won’t require a complete restart of that process, Thompson said.

“We’re not putting out any sand, so we’re not adding any material like that,” he said, noting that the weather is too warm for sand to be effective now.

Contact: 715-833-9206, elizabeth.dohms@ecpc.com, @EDohms_LT on Twitter

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