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Metro area rain washes out youth sports

Whether it's soccer, tennis or any other outdoor sport, it's the same story this season: no practices, no games, no tournaments -- no nothing -- as the metro area sinks under heavy rainfall.

Flooded soccer fields, slick tennis courts, and water saturated grass can be a serious safety hazard for young players. Sports officials across the state have had no choice but to sacrifice practices to make up games, extend the season past the traditional ending date or frantically search for venues to move games indoors.

This weekend is likely to bring even more rain with an 80 percent chance of showers on Saturday. Next week, the rain is expected to continue, but will be coupled with cooler temperatures in the 50s, a factor which can help dry out water-logged fields -- once all the rain stops.

"A lot of soccer fields are built-in flood plains and they are literally underwater," said Greg Griffith, executive director of Georgia Soccer, the largest youth sports organization in the state.

At Top Hat Soccer in Buckhead, the fields have been flooded all week resulting in cancelled practices. Even if the field is not completely flooded, playing on a water-soaked field will ruin it, said Griffith.

"We don’t want to sacrifice the future for one game today. We bite the bullet and say we will do it next week," said Griffith.  Georgia Soccer has rescheduled hundreds of games over the past few weekends -- as many as 800 this weekend alone, he said. That includes the Division 3 State Championship Tournament which will now be played in January.

While the season usually ends the weekend before Thanksgiving, it has been extended three weeks to Dec. 15, so teams can play their regular season games, Griffith said.

The only people playing soccer this weekend are players with access to turf fields -- a desired but expensive and scarce alternative in Georgia where about 90 percent of the fields are grass.

Young tennis players are facing similar struggles. Atlanta has about 50,000 youth playing in leagues, schools and other outlets, said Shelby Fitzpatrick, director of sales and marketing for USTA Southern, the governing body for tennis in the region.

"When rain comes like what is happening now, you try to reschedule the matches or tournaments and find indoor courts," she said. "When it is anything that is going to count toward a ranking, you want to get them out for play. As far as practices, it is usually just canceled."

A weather hotline keeps players up to date on cancellations, she said. And sometimes they just work around mother nature's schedule. Matches that might have been played in the afternoon are pushed to evening or whenever there is a reliable break in the rain, she said.

Weather hurdles like these are almost always expected in the spring, but it has been particularly challenging to have it happen in the fall as well.

Each time soccer practices and games at East Lake YMCA were cancelled this fall, Ayana Stallings would listen to her four-year-old son list all the team members he wasn't going to see.

That happened often this season, after a spring season in which his team had only one practice. The other scheduled practice days were used to make up for rained out games. The YMCA ended up extending the fall season to make up for the lost time, Stallings said.

While each branch of metro Atlanta YMCA manages cancellations and rescheduling based on their facilities and capacity, many also build an extra two weeks into sports schedules to accommodate weather issues, said Angie Clawson, spokeswoman for YMCA of metro Atlanta.

"They may also forego practice to play games instead so they can give children the full season they have prepared for," she said.

What they can't do is help parents with those tough conversations when you have to tell your kid that he or she will be missing another game or practice because it is raining.

"It is difficult not only for the children but for the parents," said Stallings, a team parent who found herself juggling an ever-changing snack rotation and monitoring the YMCA website for cancellations.

"When you don’t get a chance to practice it does make the children frustrated. They understand they haven’t practiced and how it is affecting their performance in the games," she said.

Each time a cancellation was on the horizon, Stallings would tell her son they would just have to wait and see what happened.

Some things, she explained to him, are just beyond our control.

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.