To play or not to play in rain? Four factors high schools weigh
This story was originally published in October 2015.
Two weeks ago, heavy rains swept across the East Coast on a Thursday and Friday, leaving athletic directors around York and Adams counties scrambling to decide when and where to play their scheduled high school football games.
One game — West York at Kennard-Dale — was pushed back to Saturday and moved to the turf field at York Suburban High School. Another — Central York at South Western — was pushed all the way back to Monday. But aside from a couple of schools that pushed kickoff times up an hour from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m., most of those games went on exactly as scheduled.
Very few fans showed up at these Friday night games, and those who did wore heavy coats and blankets to shield themselves not just from the pouring rain, but also from the cold and windy temperatures. They saw teams struggle to score in sloppy games that totaled 72 fumbles in the 11 games featuring teams from York and Adams counties.
So why did so many games go on as scheduled?
Here are four key factors that affect athletic directors' decisions:
Susquehannock athletic director and YAIAA executive director Chuck Abbott remembers a football game about a decade ago, before the school owned an artificial turf field. The Warriors played a game in sloppy conditions similar to this season's rain-soaked first weekend of October.
"After that game, the grass was done for rest of year," Abbott said of that game years ago. "It's not just football, you have to think about other sports too."
But Abbott didn't have to worry about that this season when the rain came through as Susquehannock was scheduled to host Gettysburg. Susquehannock is one of 12 YAIAA schools with an artificial turf field, which can withstand much more water than a grass field and doesn't suffer as much damage from players' cleats ripping through on a rainy night.
More turf fields available can mean fewer rain-related postponements.
"I think the biggest difference (between this year and previous years) is the number of turf fields we have," Abbott said. "I think that's made a significant change in the mindset of our ADs. Without it, it would've been a mess."
Despite the Week 5 rain, a few games were still played as scheduled on grass fields — which became mud fields by the end of the night.
But when South Western athletic director Don Seidenstricker made the decision to push the Mustangs' game from Friday to Monday, he said he felt less concerned about the grass field and more concerned about the players on both teams.
"Our first consideration is going to be the safety of both teams and the ability to play a legitimate game," Seidenstricker said. "You can play in the rain and you can play in the mud, but there comes a point when it might not be safe."
He made the call when he found standing water on the field around 2 p.m., knowing that the field would likely only get worse as rain continued to come down throughout the day.
A rainy, cold Friday night game might not be ideal, but it sometimes can be the best option on the table. Or it might be more favorable than gambling with the unknown.
"We didn't know what the weather was gonna be," Delone Catholic athletic director Dave Lawrence said of looking at the forecast that Friday afternoon. "Originally, during the week, they were calling for it to have the hurricane on Monday and Tuesday. We just thought the longer we wait, the worse the field would be to play on. Which it would've been Saturday."
It's not just the possibility of worsening conditions that makes officials hesitate to reschedule games. Players and their families could have schedule conflicts with the rain date. This particular Saturday was a big SAT testing weekend across the state, and it was the date of homecoming festivities for multiple schools.
And if a game were pushed to Monday to give a field more time to heal, that change would leave teams with little time to rest between that game and the next matchup on the following Friday. The short Week 5 turnaround wasn't an issue for South Western or Central York — who played on Monday then won Friday games later that week. But most coaches and players would rather avoid that situation.
That was a factor that Littlestown and Delone Catholic officials considered ahead of their matchup.
"Both coaches wanted to play (before Monday) if at all possible so it wouldn't affect the next game," Lawrence said. "So we did everything we could do to play."
Light crowds on Friday night meant less tickets and concessions sold for all home teams.
But Abbott, Seidenstricker and Lawrence all agreed that although it's something to be conscious of, revenue loss was less of a concern than the other factors.
Abbott said schools that reschedule are going to miss out on revenue no matter what they do: Crowds are lighter on Saturdays because people have other weekend plans, and lighter on Mondays because it's a weeknight.
Seidenstricker, who has been at South Western since 1978, agreed.
"I can tell you without doubt, Friday nights will always generate the best crowds," he said.
Week 7 forecast
While rain and wind wreaked havoc on the high school football schedule two weeks ago, local teams shouldn't have to worry this Friday.
The weather.com forecast for York calls for a mostly clear sky in the evening, with just a 20 percent chance of showers during the day and 5-10 mph winds. Temperatures are expected to reach the mid-60s during the day and dip to an overnight low in the low 40s.
Twelve YAIAA football teams play on turf fields:
• Bermudian Springs
• Central York
• Eastern York
• Red Lion
• Spring Grove
• William Penn
• York Suburban