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Things learned, observed in Pacific high school wrestling week 4.0

Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer hits the ground running again, this time on the “Beast” mats, one weekend of Winter Wall-to-Wall down, seven to go:

-- Titanic message (or was it?): A month before they defend their Far East High School Wrestling Tournament Division I team titles at Yokosuka Naval Base’s George I Purdy Fitness & Sports Center, the Titans of St. Mary’s International School on Saturday across the street from Purdy put the rest of the Pacific on notice: “The road to the Far East title goes through us.”

Rich in returnees, including what coach Ian Harlow referred to as a “once-in-a-lifetime talent” in heavyweight Chidi Agbo, the Titans won three gold medals and outdistanced host Nile C. Kinnick 55-38 for the team title in the annual “Beast of the Far East” Tournament at Kinnick’s Devil Dome. Yokota also had 38 points, but just one gold compared to Kinnick’s two; Kadena placed fourth.

But was it really the stern warning shot that it may have appeared to be on paper?

Before we rush to the front of the line and shout: “Let’s just stop now and give the Titans the trophy,” let’s remember that “Beast” in recent years has been held in early January, right around the time school lets back in after the 2½-week Christmas break.

Prior to the mid-2000s, “Beast” was held later in the month, after the Kanto Plain, DODDS Korea and Okinawa Activities Council got some league activity under their belts and could put on something of a show before the red- and white-clad Red Devils masses.

American School In Japan, for example, was a shell of itself; the school doesn’t let back in until Tuesday, and most of the regulars were still out on break. And those who were at “Beast” were seeing their first action since mid-December.

Then, there are the vagaries of life on the mat, and in school itself, which can change the complexion of a team seemingly at the turn of a dime. “You could have an injury, an ineligibility and a girlfriend all in one day, and there goes a quarter of your lineup,” Yokota’s longtime coach Brian Kitts says frequently.

My take: Let’s wait until the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools finals, scheduled for Feb. 4 at St. Mary’s – and to be held in the new Titan Dome for the first time.

-- Four-time gold-medal dream gone? Don’t write it off yet: Should Marcus Boehler have played football or stayed with cross country?

That’s one of the $64,000 questions which made the rounds in the Devil Dome on Saturday. Boehler, a Kinnick senior, is a three-time Far East tournament gold medalist and the hope this season was he would become just the third four-time champion and the only one not from Kubasaki.

That changed the first night of the DODDS Japan and Kanto Plain football season. Boehler had gone out for football, ostensibly to place kick and punt (Boehler’s first love is soccer), but coach Dan Joley also had Boehler lineup on the secondary and as a wide receiver. In Kinnick’s 39-26 come-from-behind win Aug. 26 at Zama American, Boehler separated a shoulder, and it’s been giving him problems since.

He tweaked the injury during a tournament last month at ASIJ; the question now is, will he come back at all? Boehler hasn’t been at practice, I’m told, but is still in the weight room, still runs to stay in shape and is slated for a visit to the orthopaedist at Yokosuka later this month.

So, in theory, it is still possible for it to happen. And there is precedent for wrestlers to hold out most of the season, then come back and win Kanto and Far East gold riches.

Rae Canlas, a 115-pounder who had been bugged by balky elbows in the 2002 season, sat most of 2003, returned to win gold in the Kanto tournament at ASIJ, then helped lead Yokota to its first Far East team title in 25 years.

Whether he achieves the four-gold dream or not, expect Boehler to be 100 percent for soccer this spring. He’s planning to play soccer for an Iowa community college next year, with the hope of someday transferring to Iowa State to play Division I ball in the Big 12 Conference.

As to whether he should have played football or not … hey, some people are more brittle than others. Boehler separated a shoulder; another player might not have. It’s nobody’s fault. One can get hit by a car walking across the street. Nobody should assess blame, not to the football coach, not the parents (who are two of the best people walking this Earth) or anybody else.

-- Eagles soaring, Trojans still on the march: Aside from Yokota and Kinnick, always-dangerous Kadena and Kubasaki, with its Pacific-record 21 team titles, keep an eye on Division II contenders Robert D. Edgren and defending Far East champion Zama American. Both are young, but Edgren did post the highest finish at “Beast” among D-II teams, led by 215-pound champion Matt Bernal , while the Trojans have veterans plus enough experienced youngsters to have staying power.

-- Alums vs. champs? Why not? Anybody who was at “Beast” probably saw the plethora of graduates, both recent and not-so-recent, who wore singlets for a variety of teams in years past. Old-fashioned, down-to-goodness heroes such as former Far East champions and contenders Joey Wood of Kinnick, Aaron Ahner and Jacob Bishop of Kadena, Michael Spencer and Yurie Tanaka of Zama, even St. Mary’s assistant Shu Yabui, a former two-time Far East champion who looked as if he could don a singlet and still do some damage.

Which got me to thinking … How about at next year’s “Beast,” we suit up those alumni and put them up against the tournament’s champions in exhibition bouts prior to the closing ceremony? As hungry as those alums were – Spencer was at matside with Trojans coach Steve Scott, wearing knee pads, a singlet and wrestling shoes – you might see some dy-no-mite action.

-- Welcome back, Falcons! Very, very good to see Seoul American Navy blue and white singlets back matside for the first time in six years. Just four wrestlers made the trip on very short notice, accompanied by second-year Falcons coach Chris Dickinson (son of former U.S. Congressman Bill Dickinson of Alabama).

It’s a foot in the door – a VERY big foot in the door – for the Falcons and other DODDS Korea teams to participate in future “Beasts.” Now that it’s been done, the three DODDS schools, Seoul, Osan and Daegu, can lobby their administrations and district to put the event on the district calendar, as does DODDS Okinawa.

Then, they can begin the process of fund raising, car washes, bake sales, visit the local tailor shop, the officers wives’ club, anybody who might be willing to lend a hand for what would be a win-win for all concerned. Win for the teams who’d get valuable preparation and face somebody besides themselves. Win for the “Beast” whose numbers have dwindled lately. And win for Far East, which would have better-prepared teams on the mat.

-- Wither next year’s Far East? That’s the other $64,000 question making the rounds after word slipped out that if DODDS is seeking billeting support from Yokosuka Naval Base for future Far East tournaments, it should look elsewhere.

That’s the major reason why Far East softball has been moved to Naval Air Facility Atsugi in May. That’s a major reason why after only one year at Yokosuka, the chances of Far East wrestling moving elsewhere (most likely Yokota High School) are 99.9999999999999 percent.

Begs one question, though … Why would ANY base NOT want to host a Far East tournament? Talk about a feather in the cap of whomever is in that base’s administration.

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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.)

 

Dec. 12: Dave Ornauer talks about Far East sports as team's faceoff and head into the last week before the holiday break.

Nov. 7: Dave Ornauer talks about Far East championship week, stepping off with cross country.

Oct. 24: Dave Ornauer talks about cross country, football and other Pacific sporting events occurring this weekend.