BIG RAPIDS -- Coaches and winter sports teams have various challenges to combat in every contest. Injuries can always take their toll.

But this year, another challenge has confronted sports programs.

The flu.

It's something coaches deal with every year but this season it seems to be even more of a challenge.

Most area coaches have cited illnesses, mainly the flu, and being something their team has confronted. It especially seems to have hit hard at Evart where basketball games were canceled on Friday. The next day, a major competitive cheer invitational, hosted annually by Evart, was canceled.

"It has caused us to cancel practices or practice short handed," Evart athletic director Jay Wallace said. "We have canceled a JV game or moved varsity players down to have enough players. We have canceled a high school game and two middle games due to school closing."

Wallace said the most number of players the school has had sidelined at one time has been five from the varsity/JV boys basketball teams.

Evart has combated the problem by "sending them home, canceling school and not allowing teams to meet," Wallace said. "In 25 years at the high school I have never seen it hit in the high school like it has. We have had illness go through teams before, but this fever just seems to hang on and won't let up for up to a week. And it seems to spread so easily. We used to be able to fight through it, but it's not an option with this one."

Big Rapids wrestling coach Bruce Hoffman is well aware of the challenges from the flu bug.

"We have had wrestlers out sick over the last two weeks or so and for us that is a big deal both missing them in the lineup during meets but also not having them in the practice room to work with our healthy wrestlers," Hoffman said. "We have had as many as four out sick at the same time."

Preventive/counter measures to lessen the flu problem on the team, "is pretty much the same as what we do to counter other communicable issues," Hoffman said. "We encourage the wrestler to shower right after practice and we keep kids out of contact drills if we think they are sick or are starting to get sick.

"This year it has been worse for us than in the past, at least since I have been coaching here. Part of that may be due to our larger numbers."

Some schools have been more fortunate than others.

Morley Stanwood athletic director Clark Huntey indicated the flu, as of late last week, has not been an issue at his school. Girls basketball coach Rob Brauher agreed.

"Knocking on wood, we haven't been affected adversely as of yet," Brauher said. "We have been asking the girls to carry hand sanitizer with them to class each day and use it regularly. "We have some team moms that are helping in this area as well."

The news has been mixed at other schools.

"We have had a few kids out here and there, but nothing widespread," Pine River boys basketball coach Brian Goodenow said. "We reinforce hand-washing after every practice. We also wiped all of the basketballs down with sanitizing wipes. So far, it has not been worse than past years."