John F. Russell: Athletes wait out the winter

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The temperatures are rising, the snow seems a little wetter as it falls, and if you've walked through the hallways and gyms of Steamboat Springs High School, you know that spring is in the air.

In Steamboat, beginning the high school's spring season inside is a time-honored tradition. It's like a bride wearing white on her wedding day or decorating a tree at Christmas.

Through the years, I've witnessed sprinters practicing in the narrow hallways of the school, baseball players throwing fastballs on the hardwood courts of the gym and soccer teams running drills on the black asphalt of plowed parking lots.

Each year, the process the Steamboat high school teams go through fascinates me.

When you stop to consider the hurdles athletes in this town must clear just to compete, it's amazing how successful these young athletes have proven they can be.

Through the years, I've learned that the spring season in Steamboat is a difficult one -- and not just because the first time most of the teams see grass is at the opening game of the season.

It's difficult because coaches must find a way to work through a season that is interrupted by a weeklong spring break in the heart of the season, the unpredictable weather and an occasional epidemic of spring fever.

However, by the time May rolls around, most of the student athletes and coaches seem to have forgotten about the spring season's rocky start.

In Steamboat, athletes don't typically complain about their less than ideal early-season conditions or the fact that they never get to play at home. They rarely use the fact that the track, baseball and soccer fields in Steamboat are covered with several feet of snow as an excuse for not winning.

The Sailor athletes have made a tradition of overcoming the odds and proving that a winning program can be built in the snow-covered mountains of Northern Colorado.

If you don't believe me, ask soccer coach Rob Bohlmann or track coach Andy Reust about their teams this season. Those coaches will tell you about top players and key games -- not about how they practice in gyms or parking lots.

Sure the spring sports season may arrive in Steamboat before we are ready for it.

But in just a few short weeks, the ski season will be over. The hills and fields in the Yampa Valley will be reclaimed by green grass and the sounds of summer.

But until then, the gyms and hallways will have to suffice for a dedicated group of high school athletes who can see through the falling snow to a warmer season that, believe it or not, is just around the corner.

--To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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