DODDS Korea: Let your wrestling teams go to ‘Beast’ or ‘Rumble’

An open letter to the DODDS Korea district superintendent Dr. Irby Miller and the principals of each of the DODDS Korea high schools on behalf of their wrestling programs:

Dear Dr. Miller, Ms. Reiss and Messrs. Nugent and Kwiatek:

I hope this finds you in good health and happy times as we approach those happiest, holiest days of the year. Nothing like turkey and dressing, the colorized version of Jimmy Stewart's “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the ubiquitous clay-mation Burl Ives-narrated “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” the Jimmy Durante-narrated “Frosty the Snowman” cartoon, and, of course, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

I write on behalf of your wrestling teams, whom I had the pleasure of watching during Saturday’s DODDS Korea season-opening tri-dual at historic Falcon Gym on the campus of Seoul American High School. I had a great conversation with your new principal, and I sincerely wish her all the luck as she she continues her new mission at the SAHS helm.

I worry that DODDS Korea’s three wrestling teams, Osan American, Seoul American and Daegu High, will not improve much beyond the level they’re at now by just wrestling each other week after week. While SAHS has wrestlers at every weight class, some might not get to wrestle until the Far East tournament Feb. 19-21 at Yokosuka Naval Base, because Osan and/or Daegu has no opponents at those weights. A number of bouts went uncontested on Saturday as a result.

The wrestling program in Korea, particularly at SAHS and Osan, have enjoyed recent success on the mat as teams and have basked in individual glory for a long time. In just the last 10 years, the Falcons have won three Far East team tournament titles and the Cougars tacked their first wrestling Division II team title in school history just three years ago. Osan also became the first school to field a Far East tournament Outstanding Wrestler in Carlos Albaladejo, while the Falcons have had six named Outstanding Wrestler, second-most in Pacific history, dating back to Dennis Higdon in 1979.

Those teams in some measure or another over the years have benefitted from travel to in-season invitational tournaments, the “Beast of the Far East” at Yokosuka every January and the “Rumble on the Rock” at Camp Foster, Okinawa, in late January or early February. In fact, one year, DODDS Pacific funded their travel to the “Rumble” tournament, citing DODDS Korea teams’ need for better in-season competition. Sadly, that funding has been discontinued, and understandably so in this budget-conscious time.

Still, there has to be something, one thing, that you as administrators can do to help provide the needed competition for these outstanding young men (and one young lady, Alona Paja of Daegu). The answer is quite elementary: Let your teams travel on their dime to these tournaments by blessing them to accomplish such travel.

The “Beast” tournament features annually the largest field of wrestlers at any tournament not named Far East. Nine schools in Japan and two from Okinawa gather for a fast-paced, single-day event conducted in international freestyle format, the same used at Far East.

Your wrestlers will compete against people they don’t normally see during the season, wrestlers whom they’ll see at Far East. They can pick up things, learn new tactics and strategies, new approaches to taking on opponents, and who knows? Maybe make a few new friends on the way. Such tournaments are usually followed in the coming days by a spike in Facebook friendings.

And they’d not miss a moment of school. As soon as the 3:20 p.m. dismissal bell sounds on Friday, the teams would rush like madmen for the bus that you’ve so graciously tied on to send the teams to the airport. It’s just a couple of hours’ flight to Haneda or Narita and back, they’d wrestle on Saturday and return home on Sunday.

“Rumble,” unfortunately, is a day longer, which would necessitate missing class that Friday, which is the tournament's first day. All too aware am I of administration's wish that no student miss any more class time than necessary. And so "Beast" would appear to be the more attractive option. Still, in years past, teams have been granted one missed day of school to attend a non-Far East event, with administration's and the district's blessing, naturally.

At “Rumble,” you’d get a day of dual meets followed by a day of individual freestyle competition. They’d get the best of both worlds, against Kadena and Kubasaki and a handful of teams from Guam, also looking to ramp up their freestyle game for Far East.

Sending your teams to either tournament would not cost your schools a penny. For the chance to throw somebody around the mat other than the people they see each week, I’m sure your wrestlers and coaches would do as many bakes sales, car washes, knock on vendors doors, visit the officers spouses club, Chamber of Commerce or U.S. Embassy seeking support and donations as they need until they raise enough funds for the trip.

All too aware am I that neither “Beast” nor “Rumble” show up on your schools’ calendars. Perhaps they can be added to the calendars for the 2013-14 school year, and that could at least crack open the door for those interested in competing at either or both.

The long-term results would be rewarding. Your wrestlers would have a far better chance of placing at Far East, and who knows? Maybe add another team banner, if they are given the chance to hone their skills to a fine edge at either or both of these events. Talk about a point of pride for your schools. And an added incentive for your student-athletes to keep up their grades and study harder, for they’d have something else to look forward to in addition to Far East.

Please, on behalf of your wrestlers, coaches, programs and schools, please consider.

Yours in friendship and sports,

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