BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. - As everyone in central Indiana knows, it snowed over the last two weeks – a lot! By some counts, Kokomo and Howard County were blanketed by more than 23 inches of the white stuff in a mere 14 day span. The kids seemed to love having an extra week tacked on to their Christmas Break, but for athletic administrators and student-athletes, it was a near nightmare.
Hundreds of athletic events were postponed or cancelled around Indiana as the state dug out of its worst snow storm in decades. At least 21 varsity sporting events were affected in Howard County, sending local athletic directors scrambling via cell phone, email and text messages to communicate with other schools. At Kokomo High School alone, 11 athletic contests were affected from freshman through varsity – including the North Central Conference diving preliminaries that were scheduled for the Wildkat pool. But unlike most area athletic directors, Kokomo’s Jason Snyder wears a dual hat as he is also the girls basketball coach.
“It was a crazy week,” said Snyder on the days following the Jan. 5 winter storm that left 17 paralyzing inches of snow around Howard County. “But the first thing you consider is the safety of our student-athletes – whether you are a coach or athletic director or any type of educator. Everyone, including coaches, said our first objective was safety. Everyone understood. But once the streets were cleared, the bus stops just had so much snow piled on them we still couldn’t go and it wasn’t safe. By Wednesday, a lot of the students wanted to get out and wanted to get in (to the gym).”
Snyder said that while some schools have a “no school, no play” rule, Kokomo Schools do not – although the Kats still cancelled all events on the Monday and Tuesday after the snow storm. While still thinking of safety, by Wednesday teams were allowing for optional practices.
“If they couldn’t make it, or if the parents didn’t feel it was safe, then that was fine – it was just optional time in the gym,” said Snyder. “Swimming had conference meets coming up and wrestlers who are out for four or five days have weight issues (wrestlers weigh-in before each meet to qualify for weight classes), so it was nice to get (optional practices) in. It was much like after the tornadoes – safety first.”
Snyder said one of the biggest issues was making contact with other schools that had contests scheduled against the Wildkats in the days after the snow. He said his athletic staff came in to help, but with other schools also being out, it was tough to track down needed personnel.
“We came into the office basically all week to try and get games rescheduled,” said Snyder, noting that one of the big contests was the North Central Conference swim meet scheduled for Ball State University. “They did a great job getting things reorganized. We couldn’t go back to Ball State due to scheduling, so the conference could get everything moved to Purdue on another date. We worked with great people who do what is best for student-athletes no matter how many hours they put in.”
As for his Lady Wildkats, he said he was fortunate not to have a long layoff. While the boys team had nearly two weeks off between games due to cancellations, the Lady Kats played on Jan. 3, 11 and 14.
“Our team comes down to leadership and who is on the floor,” said Snyder. “Our team did a nice job of adjusting (due to the weather). It was nice having that Friday game instead of having two-and-a-half weeks off. The boys will have about two weeks off and they are adjusting in practice to stay sharp.”
And after a three-game losing streak to Class 3A No. 9 Western, Carmel and Marion, his squad seems to have turned a corner and stands 8-5.
“We wanted to come out of Christmas Break a better team and continue to improve,” he said. “I thought we have done a better job of feeling where we belong on offense. Now, we need to continue to clean up some things. We are playing much better, but our girls know we can get much better. These girls have a goal, a common theme, and they are fun to be around.”
But just as Snyder and the area took a deep breath from the snow, another four-plus inches fell on Jan. 18, causing a delay of the Howard County Boys Basketball Tournament finals. It also directly affected the Lady Kats – and they were not even playing a game. Saturday afternoon, Kokomo was en route to Illinois for a Monday morning game against Chicago Marist (54-49 victory) when they were diverted due to a serious accident on I-65 that shut down the interstate for more than 12 hours. Driving in a heavy snow, the Lady Kats took a detour and arrived in Chicago seven hours after leaving the City of Firsts.
“So ready to get to this hotel already,” said Lady Kat senior Alanis Jones via Twitter. She later added, “We are in Chicago! We are just going to go get pizza before we head to the hotel.”
Following a quick return from Chicago, the Kats play at McCutcheon on Thursday before hosting Huntington North on Friday. Snyder said, “That will be a true sectional type week where we play three great teams.”
Ask any coach and they will tell you that they want their teams prepared to be playing their best during the tournament. For the Kokomo Lady Wildkats and its AD/head coach, that is exactly where they are – despite joining the rest of central Indiana and taking a few snow days – and a long detour – away from the court.