MLK hoops tournaments dwindling, especially on Okinawa

It gets worse for interservice sports in the Pacific.

For the first time, the Martin Luther King Invitational Basketball Tournaments, at Camps Foster and Humphreys on Okinawa and in South Korea, are in-country affairs.

For the first time since its inception as an Okinawa Athletic Officials Association-sponsored event in January 1992, the Okinawa MLK features not one single off-island team.

For the first time, the Korea MLK features more teams than the Okinawa MLK.

I’m told that teams from Japan had been waiting to see whether Yokota Air Base would hold an MLK of its own – further diluting the Korea and Japan fields – but pulled back too late for other Japan teams to make plans to travel to Okinawa.

The Korea MLK used to be the “alternative” tournament for those who could not travel from the peninsula to Okinawa. Turns out, the pots of money that varsity teams used to be able to use to fly to the Okinawa MLK, everything from airline tickets to entry fees to billeting and ground transportation … all dried up.

Thus, it leaves nine men’s and seven women’s teams competing this weekend at Super Gym and MP Hill Gym on Camp Humphreys … and just 10 men’s and three women’s teams at Okinawa’s Camp Foster Field House.

Just another example of how interservice sports in the Pacific continues to remain on life support. And another way elite athletes are being denied a platform to hone their games in their attempts to reach an All-Service tryout camp and bids to compete in All-Armed Forces tournaments.

It’s a continuing disconnect that I firmly believe threatens the very existence of that $1.75 billion taxpayer-funded industry called All-Armed Forces Sports.

Without elite programs on the ground in each theater, without regional invitational tournaments to replace things like the Marine Regional Sports Tournament program that was canceled last summer due to budget cuts, the various services have no way of evaluating what personnel they do send to an All-Service tryout camp.

And what can the tryout camp prospects put on their camp applications if there are no regional tournaments for them to attend? Sorry, but winning the base company-level championship, the camp commander’s or the commanding general’s cup is little more than a glorified intramural title.

It’s also a continuing disconnect from what I believe is an invaluable recruiting and retention program. All-Armed Forces sports can both help retain good soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and attract high school students who have an acumen for sports by demonstrating that it IS possible to serve your country and play sports for it.

If that’s the best our commands have to offer, short-term people making long-term decisions by hiding behind the short-sighted “we can’t afford to lose these people to play sports,” then you might as well forego the All-Armed Forces sports industry entirely.

And truth be told, the fact that your NCO in charge of (insert job title) is too valuable to lose … is exactly the reason you DO send that NCO forward for specialized competition. Because they WILL bring pride and recognition to your unit. Because there’s every off chance that the commanding general will walk into your office, spot the gold medal and plaque in your trophy case and inquire who it was who won that for you.

It COULD mean a bullet line on your next eval. It COULD mean retaining a very valuable resource in your service. And it COULD mean the reversal of a trend that shows military sports remaining on life support, if not dying altogether.

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.)


Sept 28:Dave Ornauer is back with the latest on the Pacific sports scene.

May 22:Yokota has dominated in first year at D-II spring championsihps.

May 8: Dave Ornauer highlights a few athletes who are participating in the Kanto Plains track and field finals Saturday.