When describing what it's like to have Mother Nature halt school for the better part of a week, Limestone County Schools' director of transportation, athletics and security, Rusty Bates, might have said it best: "This ain't been fun, I'll tell you that."
It didn't help that the western part of the county seemed to be hit the hardest, and it was West Limestone High set to host a subregional game this week. Still, the school system has powered through, and with a bit of sun and luck, the school system should be back on track by Monday, officials said.
"The biggest challenge for us so far has been just the sheer temperatures," Bates said. "Normally, we get ice and snow, and then it disappears the next day. We've been dealing with this now for a week."
Students were scheduled to be off Monday for President's Day and again Tuesday for a teacher workday. However, the severe winter weather left not only multiple inches of snow and ice but thousands of homes without power and sub-freezing temperatures that kept road conditions unsafe.
As a result, students that might otherwise only see a rain day during their school year got an entire week of snow days. Because Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency during the storm, they don't have to make up any of the missed instructional days, either.
While that may seem like fun for students, it wasn't fun for the staff members, who stayed hard at work this week.
"Fortunately, all the campuses are in good shape as far as no structural damage, very few limbs down, but we still do have a lot of snow in parking lots, especially like at West Limestone," Superintendent Randy Shearouse said Friday.
Bates said employees have been salting sidewalks and making sure roads and parking lots are clear enough to resume hosting games. West Limestone's girls varsity basketball team won the area championship and were supposed to host a subregional game against Rogers High on Monday, but it had to be postponed due to the weather. All Saturday morning recreational league games were canceled, and three other school teams are getting ready to travel to other counties in the area for their subregional games.
"We're going to stick to main roads," Bates said of the traveling teams. "We've been calling ahead, checking with our people from other districts just to make sure ... and they've been calling us as well. We're all helping each other out."
Making sure school buses can safely travel has been a major concern this week. Even if the roads are passable, low-hanging tree limbs must also be considered. Bates praised the Limestone County Commission for their help in monitoring road conditions.
"Our commissioners have done a great job of calling us and giving us a head's up on stuff," he said. "... We couldn't do this without everyone's help."
Still, the best help will be a good dose of sunshine, he said.
"All the salt and everything we do, all that's great," Bates said, "but there's no replacement for sunshine. We need that right now. We need a ton of sunshine."
According to the National Weather Service, that's what Limestone County can expect over the weekend. Temperatures were barely above freezing Friday but are expected to rise into the low 40s today and to nearly 60 degrees Sunday. Rain isn't forecast to return until early Monday morning, and temperatures are expected to stay above freezing for the next week.
With the winter storm over, school teams are rushing to figure out who advances to the basketball regional tournament, which begins Tuesday. West is set to play Rogers at home, while Tanner travels to Lexington, Elkmont to Phil Campbell and East Limestone to Lawrence County.
That's just the indoor sport of basketball. Bates said there will also be softball tournaments and soccer games to figure out.
"We're going to be making up a lot of stuff over the coming weeks because of this," he said.
The News Courier will have updates from this weekend's games in a future edition of The News Courier. Scores, stats and photos can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coverage of Athens City Schools' work during the severe weather is tentatively scheduled to appear in the Tuesday edition of The News Courier.