ANCHORAGE — The kids and coaches at Grace Christian School thought for sure they'd be playing soccer at Anchorage Football Stadium on Saturday. And in a way, they were.
With a full slate of Saturday matches postponed -- again -- because of unplayable conditions, the Grizzlies showed up at AFS anyway, determined to get their season started, one way or another.
They challenged each other to a snowman-building contest. They played a game of rugby, in which getting hauled to the ground was no problem because of a nice cushion of snow. They tossed snowballs. They kicked a ball around, almost as if they were playing soccer, except when the ball hit the ground, it sank instead of bounced.
Spring sports at Anchorage high schools should be in full swing by now -- and they are if you go to The Dome. With outdoor fields and tracks still buried by lingering and persistent snow, the indoor arena is the only place to play.
For track teams especially, gone are the days when kids helped cleared the snow off the track ovals so they could run hurdles, practice relay exchanges and get out of the gyms and hallways that are a good place to develop shin splints.
The Anchorage School District has never endorsed such snow-clearing practices because of the potential damage that might be done to expensive rubberized tracks, spokeswoman Heidi Embley said. When people used ice-choppers to clear the new South High track in the spring of 2006, they did serious damage, she said. Since then, teams have been told to leave snow- and ice-covered tracks alone.
"They put the hammer down and said it has to melt naturally," Dimond coach Kathleen Navarre said.
The Dimond team finally got outdoors for one day last week. Aided by strong winds that cleared most of the snow, Navarre was able to brush -- not shovel -- the last of the ice so the Lynx could practice outside Tuesday.
Then Wednesday, about eight inches of snow fell, and the Lynx retreated to the gym.
The school district has allotted each track team an additional three hours of practice time at The Dome -- 90 minutes this week and 90 next week -- to help athletes train on a real track. The extra time isn't costing anything, because so far it's covered by the district's annual contract with The Dome, Embley said.
Each team will gladly use the practice time, but for a team like Chugiak, Dome practices make for a long day. A one-way trip to South Anchorage takes 30 or 40 minutes, so between travel and practice, it takes up close to three hours on a school night. Teams would much rather clear their own tracks and stay home.
Navarre is hopeful the district will ease this season's zero-tolerance policy on track-clearing.
"I hope something comes down on how to properly clear your track," she said. "It was a workout I used to do with the kids -- everyone brings plastic shovels and that was our workout that day. I hope we're allowed to do that again, with a mandate on how to correctly do it."
In the past, the district used plow trucks or blowers to clear the snow, Embly said, but not anymore. Manufacturers of artificial turf and rubberized tracks don't recommend the pre-clearing of snow, she said.
"We're letting it happen naturally," she said.
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