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Don't let budget cuts trample new football format

I’m no politician, nor do I ever dare to dream of becoming one. Nary a clue do I have about the inner workings of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill; all I know is, I’m dawg goned scared that this, perhaps the greatest football season we’ve ever seen in the Pacific, may be the only one of its kind if some sort of action isn’t taken to head off the “Fiscal Cliff” come January 1.

I recall a public service announcement I used to see on AFN, about surviving cancer. A father, a recovering cancer patient, sits in his easy chair recounting his daughter’s wedding earlier that day, and how much it set him back. Wondering if the band he hired had the correct number of musicians. Did the caterer bring the caviar? Did they bring six cases of champagne or only five?

“Did you see how happy she was?” the wife asked him.

"Yeah. I wouldn't have missed it," he replied after some thought.

Very similar situation out here with high school football. It wasn’t entirely perfect, but DODDS Pacific’s new regular-season format in which every Division I and II schools played each other in division at least once and every team played at least eight regular-season games provided the most complete regular season for every team in each league. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Anybody who followed it all would agree.

Far different and far better, truly exciting for the players, coaches and schools. Every game, every week, meant something. Especially for Korea’s three teams and Okinawa’s two teams, which not only got to face three D-I foes, but also played inter-district games (one got canceled due to a typhoon).

There were those who barked that schools with small enrollments were playing too many games against schools with enrollments twice as large or more. Point well taken, but isn’t playing better than not playing?

There were those in other sports who barked that they didn’t get the same “fair shake” as football did, such as inter-district travel within the regular season to face schools they wouldn’t otherwise face.

Point taken. But if you take away those football games, guess what Korea is left with? Three teams playing four games, twice each against two league rivals. And guess what Okinawa is left with? Kubasaki and Kadena beating up on each other week in and week out.

Who's getting the "fair shake" then?

If anything, this new format gave football as true a regular season as the other sports, which had full regular-season schedules PLUS a Far East state championship tournament at season’s end. That’s called equity. All sports on par with each other in terms of opportunities for competition.

All of that may disappear, I’m afraid, if automatic sequestration cuts go into effect at the start of 2013. Although co-curricular activities are an important part of the high school experience, they very likely would be the first things to get the ax once the budget cuts begin.

Stated another way, we could see a rerun of the second year of the Reagan administration, when all but one Far East tournament hit the budget cutting-room floor. Or a redux of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings year, 1986, when tournaments were initially cut only to be saved by an offer of transportation from Northwest Airlines.

Football-wise, we could see the entire Pacific format scrapped and the sport bombed back to the pre-Rising Sun Bowl 1990s, when all we had was league championships.

How disappointing would that be? We’ve not seen a season this exciting since 1994, when three leagues ended their regular seasons with at least two teams tied for first, Japan, Okinawa and Guam. Only back then, there was no Far East D-I or D-II titles to chase.

Do we really want to take that away from our student-athletes? Do we really want to see our athletic programs become some equivalent of youth activities, things for children to do after school? With no incentive such as a Far East championship carrot to chase, we’d have too many kids out on the streets looking for trouble.

A great many people have gotten in my grill this season, most of them non-athletic types, admonishing me that I’m totally lost as to the real reasons why schools exist: to educate our children.

To which I reply: I get all that. Instruction and study are the very bedrock upon which our education system is formed, and to miss even a portion of a classroom session to go off and conquer football windmills in some far-flung locale can never be satisfact0rily made up. I get that.

That said, co-curricular activities help students take what they learn in the classroom and put it to use in competitive, deadline and pressure situations. Situations in which they learn teamwork. Unity. Developing character. Learning to win with grace, dignity and good sportsmanship. Learning from losing and taking with you from defeat a 100-percent resolution, a 100-percent determination to do better next time.

Do you get all those in a classroom setting? Ask the very students you think you're serving by giving me that third degree. You'd be surprised at the answer you get.

I would invite the folks in Congress and the White House to consider that when they continue to bicker about taxing the wealthiest Americans vs. wealth trickling down to the middle and lower classes, all the while the future of co-curriculars, indeed education itself, hangs in the balance.

All I’m asking them to leave on the table is what’s right, what’s right for student-athletes, what’s right for the co-curricular programs, what’s right for education as a whole.

It was a great season. Let there be another. Feed me more. Don't let the dream die. Instead of bickering, get ahead. Stay ahead. Keep your head. Instead.

Join the conversation and share your voice.

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Ornauer on AFN

 

Stars and Stripes reporter Dave Ornauer talks about the Pacific sports scene on AFN Radio. (Click on right arrow to play file.)

 

Oct. 17: The Nile C. Kinnick football team can ensure its fans have good seats for the Far East Division I final with a win over Kadena on Saturday.

Oct. 3: Dave Ornauer talks about the weekend's key football matchups, including Matthew C. Perry at American School In Japan.

Sept. 12: Dave Ornauer highlights Nile C. Kinnick's win over Zama, 30-0, during high school football last week, discusses other games throughout the Pacific.