Things learned, observed at Japan preseason wrestling tournament
Published: December 6, 2010
Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer recounts a full day of surprises, returns and chance encounters during the Japan high school preseason wrestling tournament at Yokosuka Naval Base:
-- In years past, the statement made by girls wrestlers on Japan’s mats was usually: "We are here." Yurie Tanaka, a Zama American senior, on Saturday changed that quote to: "We are here to win." At least she is. The 108-pounder became the talk of the Japan high school preseason tournament Saturday at Yokosuka Naval Base, when she pinned three opponents, including freshman Callan Murphy of American School In Japan in 1 minute, 35 seconds in the gold-medal bout. It goes to show you what hard work can do to improve one’s standing; coach Chris Iredale said Tanaka was the only Zama girl who worked out with Iredale and several Trojans teammates in the offseason and part of the summer.
-- That said, don’t sleep on Melody Brown at 115 pounds nor Reina Staley at 122. They might surprise you, too.
-- I’m still hoping that someday, the thinking that wrestling a girl is a lose-lose situation for a boy opponent – if he loses, he lost to a girl, and if he wins, well, he was supposed to win; she’s a girl – will eventually evaporate. Girls have been on Japan’s mats since 1998-99 and in Korea since the mid-2000’s. By now, people like Tanaka, and history-making predecessors such Jacquelin Steele and Alyssa Rodriguez of Robert D. Edgren and Emily Albonetti of Osan American, should be viewed as "wrestlers" or "opponents," not "girls wrestlers." We’ve had women coaches out here for years, Terry Chumley at Kubasaki for one, April Scott at Edgren for another, and nobody said a thing. Let’s give girl wrestlers the same respect. They’ve worked just as hard as their boys counterparts.
-- Anybody notice that Zama finished third in the tournament and Edgren fourth? Tells me that the battle for the Division II team title in the Far East Tournament in February at South Korea’s Camp Humphreys could be a dandy.
-- All that said, bear in mind that Saturday was an SAT day, as well as JROTC students preparing for this week’s rifle-marksmanship Far East competition at E.J. King School; thus, several starters were missing from everybody’s lineup. St. Mary’s International tied with Yokota in the points standings at 79 each, with St. Mary’s breaking the tie with six total golds to Yokota’s three. But both coaches, Ian Harlow and Brian Kitts, said it was way too early to use this as a gauge. We’ll see if Saturday’s Edgren tournament is more of a fair shakeout to see where people truly stand.
-- One thing that should help the Trojans get even better is the return of Steve Scott, a retired Army sergeant first class who had been at Zama on and off for nine years before spending the last 2½ in Texas. He’s back now and helping out Iredale, the same way he did his predecessor, Harlow, now at St. Mary’s. "He has a lot of experience," Iredale said of Scott, whose son Jacob will wrestle at 101. The Trojans won’t have nearly the same lineup they did two years ago – half the Trojans are first-year wrestlers – but with the likes of two-time Far East champion Michael Spencer (168) in the lineup, the Trojans should make a lot of Division II noise.
-- "Absolutely. Love it," the elder Scott said of his return to Zama.
-- One small-school wrestler worth noting is Darnell Vinson, one of two returners at E.J. King, which like Zama is fielding a very young group of mostly first-year wrestlers. But it’s the Cobras’ largest group in at least five years, and Pete Soto is the new man in charge. Nowhere to go but up for the team, and Vinson, at 180, will also make some noise.
-- Much discussion at Nile C. Kinnick’s gymnasium, revolved around the return of international school teams to the DODDS Pacific Far East Tournament fold. DODDS closed the door to international schools in individual-discipline tournament s such as wrestling, cross country and tennis in September 2004; that ban was overturned at last spring’s Far East Activities/Athletics Council meeting. I, for one, was against the ban from the beginning; having schools such as St. Mary’s and ASIJ, with its combined 10 Far East Tournament team titles, gives the tournaments more of a "true" state championship feel and atmosphere. Here’s hoping that the return of ASIJ, St. Mary’s and Christian Academy Japan will help other programs such as Morrison Christian Academy in Taiwan and Faith Academy in the Philippines, formerly regulars at Far East tournaments, kick the tires, light the fires, pull the singlets and mats out of mothballs and revive their programs.
-- The two returning Far East weight-class champions, Marcus Boehler of Kinnick and Michael Spencer of Zama, produced mixed results. Spencer left little to chance, pinning CAJ's Shogo Higashi in 15 seconds to win at 168. But Boehler began his season the way he ended last season, with his bout under video review -- with a different result than last time. Unlike his 2-0 decision over Kubasaki's Nick Barker at last year's Far East, Boehler lost in two periods to Kelly Langley of St. Mary's, including a hotly contested 4-3 second-period defeat; Langley was awarded a late point when the mat officials ruled Boehler stepped out of bounds. Kinnick coach Richard Huffer argued articulately that it was Langley who stepped out first. Several people produced videos, but the call stood.
-- This must be getting awfully tiresome for Boehler, who like anybody else would want nothing more than to have every bout result contested on the mat, not in some digital recording.
-- Edgren wrestlers , coaches and parents were grumbling much of Saturday because their bus wasn’t scheduled to leave right after the tournament, and they had to stay overnight at Yokosuka a second night before returning to Misawa Air Base on Sunday. Had they returned on Saturday, though, they wouldn’t have happened to by chance encounter former sumo yokozuna (grand champion) Akebono at a rest stop on the Tohoku Expressway northbound on Sunday. The 41-year-old Akebono, whose birth name is Chad Rowan, and the Eagles wrestlers chilled for a bit and snapped some photos together before they resumed their routes. Akebono, who wrestles professionally in Japan, was en route to an All-Japan Pro Wrestling event in Akita when he and the wrestlers happened to meet.
-- Best hair: The Mohawk displayed by ASIJ 135-pounder Ryoma Nichols.
-- Best patch: The one displayed on the back of a team T-shirt by Edgren freshman student-manager Nicole Balmforth, a circular green trimmed with gold which read: "Edgren High School DODDS Pacific individual champions and dual champions 2010 wrestling."