Military sports 2012: Too much and too little = too much frustration
Published: June 27, 2012
Too little of one thing and too much of another appear to be taking their toll on Pacificwide interservice sports tournaments and the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League, and the Korea Traveling League’s inaugural jamboree season structure.
With the USFJ-AFL headed into its home stretch, players now more than ever are facing increasing demands from work and on the home front, given the continuing high operations tempo, both spouses working or deployed, working swing and graveyard shifts. All of which rob teams of needed practice time, especially on offense to ensure plays are properly executed.
That said, coaches rightly are doing a slow burn whenever they get single-digit numbers out for practice during the week, but have 50 to 60 players show up on game day clearly unprepared because they’ve not gone through the repetition routine with the entire team together.
The occasional 30-yard game-winning touchdown pass from Sanford James to Allein Powell to give defending champion Foster a last-second 13-8 win over Camp Hansen was a terrific play, but hardly necessary given the context in which you find USFJ-AFL offenses these days in general. The defenses are staunch; I’d put them up against a great many NAIA or lower NCAA division teams. The offenses? Sometimes couldn’t find the end zone with two hands and a flashlight.
At least two teams called off practice for the rest of the week, and have put out the word to their players: Come Monday, the numbers better be in the mid double-digits … or they’ll ask for gear to be turned in and call it a season.
I’d say that’s a bit drastic, but it’s clearly emblematic of a deadly serious problem that’s affecting military sports on all levels, Pacific and everywhere else.
Face it: GIs are hired to defend the country, not play ball. That said, the opportunities for the elite athlete to hone their game are disappearing at an alarming rate.
You can see that in the numbers (or lack thereof) in this week’s July 4th holiday basketball tournament on Guam, the Andersen Summer Slam, and softball tournament on Okinawa, the Pacificwide Firecracker. Numbers of teams in each are way down from past years, just seven men’s teams at Andersen and 13 men’s and four women’s teams on Okinawa.
The downsizing of Pacificwide softball and basketball tournaments in recent years is hardly news. Truth be told, with the exception of Osan Air Base and Andersen Air Force Base which support each other’s basketball tournaments unquestioned and the Pacificwide Open Softball Tournament which welcomes players and teams worldwide, these so-called “Pacificwide” tournaments are becoming little more than glorified on-island events.
No Army teams from Korea are traveling to either the Summer Slam or Firecracker; they used to be a full-fledged staple at each. Something about how the bean counters must keep closer eye on how morale, welfare and recreation dollars are being spent. Core programs such as fitness and company-level sports get virtually the entire till – and that should be the case, in terms of the lions’ share of money going to the “fit to fight” programs.
Still, there’s that $1.75 billion taxpayer-funded Armed Forces Sports industry, which suffers every time one of the services does away with command tournaments, such as the Marines did last year, or when long-term decisions made by short-term people include cutting back on opportunities for elite athletes to ramp up their game at a higher level than intramural ball.
That’s why I’m relieved we still have post-level softball – even in its current form, weekly jamborees – in South Korea. Instead of teams traveling to each other’s posts for two weekend doubleheaders each Saturday and Sunday, all post-level teams in Korea travel to one destination or another – last week it was Yongsan Garrison – for what pretty much amount to two-day round-robin tournaments.
And from what the message traffic has been telling me, it’s not all good. One anti-jamboree advocate calls the system “terrible.” For men, it’s seven games over two days and for women, it’s five games over two days. Not enough time to recover from one jamboree when it’s time to move onto the next one. Not every player is 20-something and capable of committing from 9 a.m. Saturday to 5 p.m. Sunday every weekend or every other weekend.
I guess it could be said that too much post-level softball in too little time is far better than no post-level softball at all, which is the direction we were headed until the jamboree concept was suggested. And I hope that a similar concept, maybe one a bit less labor-intensive but preserves varsity ball, is put on the hardwood come November when it’s time for post-level basketball to take the court in Korea.