When November flips on the calendar, I usually find time to mess with the football and soccer coaches. These poor souls walk off the practice field with red ears and noses, chapped cheeks, and a look like they had just been stranded at the Arctic Circle. I remind them that in my sport, the temperature ranges from 69 to 73 degrees with a wind chill index of 69 to 73 degrees. However, it’s all a disguise about my concern for the weather. I know it’s time for basketball when I begin to take the seven-day forecast serious.
I always proclaim that you can judge the basketball season on the trees in Missouri. When the last of the leaves are nestling to the ground, I know its game time. When hay fever begins because the trees are budding, it’s time for March Madness. The last time I checked, the leaves were ready for raking. I just hope my basketball team is ready to roll.
I mentioned that I become an enormous fan of the seven-day forecast. Even when Sam is begging me for Sports Center as he gets ready for school each morning, I insist on one final look at the long range predictions. Northwest very seldom leases outside buses, since we have our own fleet. That makes it easy to communicate with our transportation department about the perils of the weather.
It seems like ice is the first roadblock in the November and December weather. What begins as a little drizzle can easily change to black ice. Either our bus drivers are really good on ice or the Bearcat buses handle the ice hazards really well. However, there was that one time when the men and women were traveling together to Bolivar, Missouri. The nasty weatherman predicted it, but my hopes were still high that we wouldn’t run into icy roads for the three and one-half hour bus ride back to Maryville.
Doug Rush was our driver and usually nothing bothers him. However, this was a major mess. The bus slipped all over the road as we crept toward Kansas City. Finally, Doug had just about all he could take and pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot in Clinton, Missouri. It was a tough call whether to check into a motel or brave the very dangerous roads. After a few phone calls, Doug edged back onto the highway. It was a good decision. Within 10 miles, the ice turned to water and it was easy getting home.
Snow can be a problem early, but it seems to me that it affects us in the later months, especially in February. The Bearcat buses can plow through about any type of Missouri snowstorm, but visibility is a killer. A couple of years ago, the seven-day forecast said getting to Ft. Hays was going to be almost impossible the day before the game.
The seven day forecast was right. To prevent a postponement, our administration suggested we leave a night early. Even that almost didn’t work. By the time the bus pulled into Hays, Kansas, the blizzard was just gearing up. For 24 hours, we watched it snow and blow like crazy. Our players even helped a pregnant woman with a young child by pushing her out of a snow drift near our hotel.
Speaking of crazy, only one parent made it to our game. It was Abby Henry’s father, John. There are tall tales written about a man named John Henry an imaginary steel-driving man. Our parent, John Henry, must have had something in common with the John Henry who could lay railroad tracks faster than a steam engine. He met the blizzard head-on, making it to our western Kansas game just at tip off.
We also had an ice problem at Hays one year. For some reason, we played a night game on Saturday and the forecast said an ice storm was coming in strong. By the time the game rolled around, ice was weighting down power lines and the gym lights blinked a few times.
At about 9:30 pm, we the Bearcat bus sped onto I-70 for our trip back to Maryville. It was the eeriest interstate ride ever. The roads department had closed the roads heading west at Salina. It’s about 90 miles from Hays to Salina. During that particular 90 miles, we didn’t meet a single vehicle. It was like we were in the twilight zone.
It was my second year at Northwest, the 2000-2001 basketball season, when we were sent to Southwest Baptist for the first round of the MIAA Tournament. Back then, the teams didn’t go to Kansas City, but they played at the home courts of the highest seeds. Again, the seven-day forecast said we should leave early. I had a new bus driver, and I like his name, Frosty.
We easily got to Bolivar, but the storm was getting stronger to the north up when we left. It didn’t seem to faze Frosty at all. When I talked to him about the snow problem, he told me he had been a bus driver in Alaska. In our 49th state, he had to worry about avalanches. No such worries for the Bearcat bus that night. Also, no worries about Frosty’s bus tackling the blizzard.
Trips to Southwest Baptist seem to be most memorable because of the weather. During my first season at Northwest, the seven-day forecast tricked Doug, the bus driver. It was a real mild spring day on Friday when we arrived in Bolivar. A mild night was forecast, so Doug shut down the bus. If temperatures get low, the buses are left running so the diesel fuel won’t jell. Much to Doug’s surprise the temperature in Bolivar that night dropped into the teens. Poor Doug had to spend a good portion on Saturday getting the fuel flowing again.
The seven-day forecast even affects home games. A big storm blew up the day of an important conference game. The visiting team always has the right to refuse to brave the elements. I won’t mention the name of the team, but they called and asked to move the game from Wednesday to Thursday night. We gladly made the change. We certainly didn’t want to put college kids in danger.
However, much to our surprise, the conference rival’s bus rolled into Maryville at about 5:30 Wednesday evening, the exact starting time. They took advantage of Mother Nature so they could play Thursday, stay on the road, and play at Rolla on Saturday night. It was perfect for them, but it made us look foolish when they rolled into town on Wednesday.
It’s a little rainy as I write this article. The seven day forecast says it will even warm up before our opening game at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. I can’t wait to see the long range forecast. I hope it’s really bad over Thanksgiving in Missouri. We’ll be in Hawaii and I won’t even look at the seven-day forecast in Paradise.