ANDERSON — Jimmie Howell's Hall of Fame coaching career began in 1978 with the junior varsity team at Frankton. That winter brought with it one of the worst blizzards in state history.
School was canceled for four weeks, and athletic schedules were wrecked.
This month has been the worst Howell can remember in the 36 years since. Tuesday brought another day of mass cancellations across the state as drifting snow made many rural roads impassible.
Meteorologists report January has been the third snowiest month in Indiana history, and more is on the way.
All the white stuff has created unique challenges for high school athletic directors as they attempt to balance safety, fairness and the financial bottom line.
"It's a challenge getting (athletic events) moved," Pendleton Heights AD John Broughton said. "The thing most people don't understand is you've gotta move the bus drivers, you've gotta move workers, you've gotta move officials. And you feel like you're always missing somebody important."
The winter weather really began to take its toll two weeks ago when the Madison County basketball tournaments were scheduled to begin. The events were supposed to start with girls/boys doubleheaders at three sites on Jan. 6.
Those games eventually were played Jan. 10, the original date of the boys championship game. The boys tournament played its semifinals on Jan. 11 and finished on Jan. 13. The girls played the semifinals on Jan. 13 and the final on Jan. 14, five days behind the scheduled finish.
Anderson's girls team wound up playing five games in a six-day span and won them all. Hopefully, the boys took notes. The Indians will play a regularly scheduled North Central Conference game Friday against Marion, followed by a makeup game Saturday against Lafayette Jeff that was originally scheduled last week.
On Tuesday, the Tribe hosts Indianapolis Brebeuf in a game pushed back from November by the Braves' participation in the Class 3A state championship football game. Anderson then plays for the fourth time in eight days on Jan. 31 at Kokomo.
"It's kind of the same thing you deal with in the spring," Indians AD Steve Schindler said. "You have to get them in, and if you lose them you're not going to get them rescheduled."
One difference Schindler pointed out is that baseball and softball teams are accustomed to playing four or five games each week during the spring. For basketball programs, that's a rare challenge.
And it's becoming even more complicated on the girls' side.
Sectional play is slated to begin Feb. 11, and the few open dates on teams' schedules are disappearing quickly with each new snowstorm. The timing is even more desperate in wrestling (sectionals begin Feb. 1) and girls swimming (Feb. 6).
Even when a mutual date can be found to reschedule a contest, officials must be available as well.
And the reasons for canceling an event can be multifold. Many school systems have rules requiring all extracurricular activities to be canceled any time classes are not in session. Others are limited by county travel restrictions.
Last week, Schindler lost two freshman basketball games in the span of a few minutes. The Lady Tribe's home game was canceled when the visiting school called to say it had been barred from travelling. While the AD was on the phone, he got a voice message from the school the boys team was supposed to visit. It, too, was under a travel restriction and didn't think it was appropriate to ask other schools to make the trip.
"You try to get in as much as you can," Broughton said. "And then you add in the cold on top of (the snow), and it makes things even tougher. If (teams) do have bus troubles, now you've got real problems. We're always going to err on the side of safety."
Technology has helped. In earlier years, if a bus broke down the coach or athletic director would need to seek out a phone booth or nearby house to get word back to the school. Now the buses are equipped with communication capabilities, and of course nearly all the passengers have a cell phone.
But tech can't solve everything.
There's a mental toll for athletes who are constantly preparing for games that never seem to be played.
"It's really hard for the kids to get themselves motivated and wanting to play when it seems like every other day they're getting a game canceled on them," said Howell, who is the boys basketball coach as well as the AD at Lapel.
His answer has to been to cut down on the length and amount of practices in an effort to avoid burnout.
The Bulldogs have played just once since losing the Madison County championship game against Anderson on Jan. 13. A scheduled game against Tri-Central was postponed for a second time Tuesday and now is slated to take place Jan. 29.
Lapel hopes to return to the court Friday against Anderson Prep.
"I won't know how I've done until we play a few games," Howell said of his practice approach.
These days, it seems, everyone understands the feeling.