BELGRADE — Thursday marked Opening Day for Major League Baseball, which is ironic due to the knee-deep snow that sits on top of Belgrade's baseball field. The Panthers have barely been able to get in a practice outside, much less play a game or match, weeks into the spring season.
“Well right now I’m having flashbacks to Covid," Belgrade athletic director Toby Robinson said. "It reminds me of all the restrictions we had to put up, and all the modifications and cancellations. But, at least this is mother nature doing its thing. We’re trying to get by day by day, and that’s what it is — day by day.”
Unpredictable weather impacts outdoor sports all across the country, but in Belgrade it’s even worse than that. Like many other schools, a long winter in southwest Montana has forced the Panthers to adapt.
“We’ve moved our home games to (the opponent's) place, and if we have to swap home and away that’s fine," Robinson said. "At this point the coaches don’t even care if they have home field advantage on anything right now. We just want to play."
They only way they've been able to play is inside their gymnasiums, which have been transformed to the spring sports facility. But, there’s only so much you can replicate for outdoor sports inside a gym.
“We have good facilities, but we’re sitting on about 250 athletes in one spot in one school after school trying to figure out how we’re going to stay out of each other's way," Robinson said.
Robinson has had to get creative with scheduling. He has to ask schools positioned in a part of the state with more playable weather to accept them to their track and tennis meets. He's also had to push games up week after week.
“We’re taking all the games up from one week and moving them to the next week and those games moving up to another week, so we really have to focus on our conference at this point," Robinson explained. "They’ve got 22 games, and they’re going to be lucky to get that this year.”
But a town can only take so much. The athletes, especially the seniors, with their final months of high school winding down aren’t getting to enjoy it like they should all because of the weather. They’d go hundreds and hundreds of miles to just be able to play.
“At this point nobody cares, we just want to play. We’d go to Arizona if we had to for a tournament at this point," Robinson joked.
For the time being, they'll continue to practice inside and fit in as many road games as possible to start chipping away at their schedule.