Published: March 31, 2011
Sports Day on Saturday at Yokota. About 200 student-athletes from Zama American, Yokota and Nile C. Kinnick to gather and play jamboree-style games and matches from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Some teams short on players may have to mix and match to put full teams on the field.
DODDS Japan sports calendar back in full swing starting April 22-23. Girls softball tournament at E.J. King, boys and girls soccer tournaments at Matthew C. Perry and baseball at Robert D. Edgren.
Kanto Invitational track meet still a go for May 14. Kanto Invitational for baseball up in the air.
All Far East Tournaments are a go for now. Final decision to be made April 8, but the outlook is promising.
Details as I get them.
Published: March 29, 2011
They came up just short of a Far East Division I Tournament title in that 2004 season, those John F. Kennedy Islanders, led by their longtime coach Joe Taitano and tournament MVP Jocelyn Pardilla, who for all her hard work couldn’t bring the Islanders over the top against the surprising Kubasaki Dragons.
Fast forward seven years, well past Pardilla’s college days at Adams State in Alamosa, Colo., and to Taitano’s ascending to the helm of Guam’s women’s basketball National Team. On the heels of their Micronesia Games championship last August in Palau, Pardilla and the National Team last Saturday brought home the gold in the March Madness Tournament at Andersen Air Force Base.
In doing so, they handed a veteran Camp Humphreys team of South Korea its first losses of the season, including a 70-51 rout in the final. The Lady Bulldogs had run the table in the Korea Traveling League and had won all four tournaments in which they entered, until they encountered the Guam National Team.
"We’re excited down here for the victory. It came against a very good team," said Taitano, who has coached high school ball and at higher levels on island for more than 30 years. He's won Far East Tournament titles in basketball and cross country, but Saturday's triumph was his first gold medal in a Pacific military Triple Crown tournament.
Taitano has help on the bench in his trusty lieutenants Ben Leon Guerrero and Arleen Mad and on the court in a cast of former and present stars from the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam.
In addition to Pardilla, Derin Santos played for St. Paul Christian teams that came so close but yet so far in Far East Division II Tournament play. Versatile Jonimay Tepahogo plays for Notre Dame and perimeter shooting specialist Brianna Benito for Academy of Our Lady of Guam; Taitano, Leon Guerrero and Mad will coach the Lady Cougars when IIAAG girls basketball season starts this weekend. The three also coach Guam High’s boys team.
The coaching triad and the National Team have worked together for more than a year now, with the goal being capturing as much gold as it is capable. Next stop: South Pacific Games this summer in New Caledonia.
"I think we’re headed in the right direction," Taitano said.
Published: March 28, 2011
UPDATES throughout on March 29.
Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as a much more sobered version of Ornauer keeps looking for the time continuum portal back to his old universe, and wonders how those March 11 soccer matches at Yokota, the Camellia Bowl on March 12 at Kawasaki and the Junior Olympic swim meet at ST. Mary’s International School turned out there:
-- Meanwhile, in this parallel universe, Ornauer has stumbled across one of those once-in-10-years talents, and for the first time in my 31 years with Stars and Stripes, it’s a track and field star whom Ornauer firmly believes is just starting to scratch his stardom.
-- A.J. Watson on Saturday delivered an articulate and stern message to the Pacific record book: "You are on notice. I am coming, claws bared right for the eyes. And at season’s end, you will look very much different than you did at the start."
-- He began his assault on the record book on a brisk, gusty morning at Ryukyu Middle School more suited for staying inside and watching the likes of Butler and Virginia Commonwealth turn everybody’s Final Four bracket on their heads.
-- Watson clocked a 21.18 in the 200-meter dash in the day’s penultimate event. That broke by .22 of a second the 34-year-old Pacific mark of 21.4 set in 1977 by Kenny Elder of Zama American.
-- According to Athletic.net, the gatekeeper of prep track and field and cross-country stats and information, Watson’s time is the fastest among high school runners from sea to shining sea thus far this season.
-- And it sets a new standard for DODDS athletes worldwide, breaking the 10-year-old DODDS Europe mark of 21.20 set by Isaiah Fluellen of Ramstein, Germany. Fluellen went on to run track at the University of Nebraska.
-- Watson transfers to Beaufort, S.C., after this school year. Something tells me that wherever he ends up, at Beaufort, Battery Creek, Hilton Head or Bluffton, some track and field coach is going to be very, very happy to welcome him to the team.
-- And don’t be the least bit surprised if you see Watson end up running at a very, very high level once he leaves high school.
-- As for Watson’s other feats, he ran a 10.62 in the 100 Saturday, .07 seconds off the 23-year-old Pacific mark of 10.55 set by Yokota’s Timmy Gardner.
-- This wasn’t official, of course, for the 400 is run from a standing start, while the anchor running in the 1,600 relay gets a running start. But Watson’s 400 split in that 1,600 relay was 49.1 seconds. That’s .2 off the Pacific record of 48.9, also by Gardner in 1988.
-- You can look at that time one of two ways. Either he got that time because he had a running start … OR, he got it because for the first time all season, he had somebody to CATCH UP TO, and put the pedal to the metal to try to make it happen.
-- Ornauer prefers the latter. And is taking the under.
-- Interesting thing about Gardner’s 400 record … it came in the ONLY TIME he ran that distance. Yokota’s main 400 guy was not available and, legend has it, coach John Thek asked Gardner if he would do it. Gardner agreed to it, reluctantly, then ran the race and came straight up to Thek afterward telling him how he didn’t like doing that. When Thek advised him what he’d done, Gardner seemed surprised, but never ran the distance again.
-- Watson’s not the only Kubasaki sprinter making waves this season. Girls sprint specialist Bianca Johnson has already clocked two sub-13s in the 100 this season; if she can push it harder, get down in the 12.3, 12.2 or 12.1 range, the Pacific mark of 11.4 could well be within her grasp.
-- Notice, next time you’re out at an Okinawa Activities Association meet, how the teeter-totter tilts slowly in favor of Kadena as the sprints give way to long-distance races, at least where the boys are concerned. Jacob Bishop has owned the 3,000 and 1,500, while Tomas Sanchez is the team’s 800 specialist. Once India Adams, who sat out the first couple of meets, gets back in running shape, she’ll resume her customary spot out front of the OAC pack.
-- That is, unless Teauna Baker of Zion has anything to say about it. Talk about somebody who runs the 800 and 1,500 like she means business.
-- Usually, Daegu American’s girls soccer team gets off to a slow start, then picks up steam as frigid March turns to balmy April. For the first time in coach Ed Thompson’s tenure as head coach, it’s the other way around; the Warriors are off to a 5-0-2 start, including a 3-0-1 ledger against their DODDS Korea brethren. More on the Warriors’ hot start later this week in Home Team.
-- Kadena’s 3-2 victory over Kubasaki in Friday’s OAC girls soccer match served notice that the season series will be far more competitive than the Dragons’ 4-0 shutout of the Panthers on March 11. Even that match, Kubasaki coach Shawn Green insisted, didn’t show how evenly matched the two teams are. It should be something to watch as the season plays out, the scoring touch of Kubasaki’s Elizabeth Fabila (7 goals) against Kadena’s sisters Pressley.
-- There must be some unwritten rule about Kubasaki’s baseball team, something preventing them from playing all out until either the fourth inning or until they fall behind or both. For the third time in four tries this season, the Dragons rallied to beat the Panthers, this time on Saturday scoring five runs total in the fourth and fifth innings after Kadena had taken a 2-0 lead over Andrew Estes and Kubasaki in the third. Estes got his third win, all against Kadena, with another complete game.
-- They’d been practicing for as much as a month, and Seoul American’s baseball team had even played Korean adult teams, preparing for Saturday’s DODDS Korea season-opening baseball and girls softball games at Osan American. Well, wouldn’t you know it, four inches of snow fell last Thursday, and though much of it melted by Saturday, the grounds were too wet and all six games were snowed out. Osan American athletics director Linda Concepcion told Stripes they’re hoping to play Seoul American on Wednesday and try to find a makeup date for the lost games against Daegu American. The latter hosts the next series of games Friday and Saturday.
-- The first signs of life are showing in Kanto Plain/DODDS Japan sports. Yokota’s spring sports teams began practice last Monday, and Zama American and Nile C. Kinnick resumed practice today, although without activities buses to take students home after practice. And things will really get in gear on Saturday, when Kinnick and Zama will take whatever athletes they have and combine forces with Yokota's for a day long "Sports Day" in all four spring sports. Which would be really great news, in this very dark period. More on that in another post.
-- Meanwhile, E.J. King and Matthew C. Perry boys soccer teams will proceed this weekend to Osaka International School for a Western Japan Athletic Association Tournament, as scheduled. This will be the first DODDS Japan sports activity since the weekend of March 4-5 to take place as scheduled.
-- Rumour mill, be still ye. Far East tournaments still have not been called off. Discussions are still being held at DODDS Pacific’s highest levels, a decision will be made no later than April 8 and once it’s made, you’ll be the first to know here. Pay no attention to the rumours purveyed by friends of friends of friends of friends who know somebody who has a friend at headquarters, any more than you would the man behind the curtain. Check with Stripes. Check with coaches. Check with athletics directors. Check with administrators. The official line is the only line.
Mark plus 28.
Published: March 27, 2011
UPDATED on March 28 with newer, better Game/Shot of the Quarter. Thank you, HermanHelicopter, for keeping me honest. :)
Apologies for these being so late ... here they are!
When it came time to take care of business on the wrestling mat, 168-pounder Michael Spencer wasted little time, and his Zama American Trojans benefitted greatly for it.
When it came time to take care of business on the basketball court, 5-foot-4 senior point guard Liz Gleaves did much of her feats while airborne, and her Seoul American Falcons benefitted greatly for it.
They each led their respective teams to Far East Tournament titles, the Trojans winning both Division II individual-freestyle and dual-meet team titles, and the Falcons their second straight Girls D-I Tournament title.
And for their feats, they share Stars and Stripes Athlete of the Quarter honors for the winter sports season 2010-11.
Of Spencer’s 27 bout wins, 26 came via pin, most of them in the first period. His quickest pin? All of 12 seconds. Average amount of time spent on the mat? Try 40 seconds. The non-pin victory? By superior decision.
He won gold medals in all four tournaments in which he wrestled, the Japan preseason, "Beast of the Far East," Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools and his third Far East gold medal in as many tries.
All that helped the Trojans earn a piece of the Kanto Plain regular-season title for the first time since 1990. And they swept the Division II individual-freestyle and dual-meet team titles at Far East for the first time in school history last month at Camp Humphreys, South Korea.
Zama hadn’t earned a Far East mat title of any kind since sharing the crown in 1982.
"He’s the perfect representative of the school and to others," Zama third-year coach Chris Iredale said. "Michael is an example of what can happen when you do not quit and work hard."
Gleaves and the Falcons went 27-2 this season and have gone 108-14 in her four years on Seoul American’s varsity.
They’ve won four of their 19 straight Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference D-I regular-season and tournament titles and made four Far East D-I Center Court appearances with No. 5 in the lineup.
Gleaves averaged 12.4 points per game, shooting 58 percent from inside the three-point line, 41 percent from outside and 71 percent at the line, and averaged 3.2 rebounds, 4.2 steals and 3.3 assists per game, playing on average 12 minutes per game; most of the Falcons games ended via mercy rule.
"She is the best athlete, male or female, that I have ever had the privilege of coaching," Falcons coach Billy Ratcliff said.
Gleaves and the Falcons have won four straight D-I tournament titles in three sports, all at Faith Academy’s expense, and Gleaves has earned MVP honors in all four tournaments, unprecedented in Pacific high school sports history.
The rest of the winter season sports awards:
-- COACH OF THE QUARTER: Ian Harlow over his five years at St. Mary’s International has built a wrestling juggernaut that’s built for now and built to last. His Titans won both D-I individual-freestyle and dual-meet team titles in St. Mary’s first trip back to Far East since 2004, and he loses just two seniors off a lineup that’s packed with underclassmen.
-- TEAMS OF THE QUARTER: For the second time in five years, Kubasaki boys basketball (41-8), led by the Special K’s, Kai Yamaguchi and Kentrell Key, captured the D-I Tournament title, bringing to an even 10 the Pacific record for most championships won. Meanwhile, Morrison Christian Academy’s boys went unbeaten and took their third straight D-II crown, prompting discussion of putting the Dragons and the Mustangs on court for a "winner-take-all" showdown.
-- PROGRAM OF THE QUARTER: Without the benefit of playing regular-season games (girls season is in the fourth quarter), St. Paul Christian’s girls basketball team, led by Jaymee Cruz, Momoko Ennis and Sam Nauta, won their first D-II Tournament title. Meanwhile, the boys, paced by Morgan Aiken and Kory Borja, came in second in D-II, then won the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam island championship in an upset over defending champion Okkodo.
-- MOST IMPROVED TEAM: From 15th place in the D-I Tournament a year ago to Center Court in 2011, Seoul American’s boys team "is back," said coach Steve Boyd, in his 10th year at the Falcons’ helm. They went from 11-17 a year ago to a more customary 36-8 this season.
-- BOYS BASKETBALL PLAYER OF THE QUARTER: You won’t find his name attached to any Far East Tournament championship or MVP trophies, but senior John Ayers has been worth his weight in gold to Matthew C. Perry. Teetering on the edge, having had several players removed from the team in 2007-08 due to undisclosed code-of-conduct violations, Perry welcomed Ayers and the Samurai gradually turned the corner, from 12-28 in his first two seasons to 19-17 this year. He was overwhelmingly voted MVP of the D-II Tournament despite his Samurai finishing sixth.
-- GAME/SHOT OF THE QUARTER: Did the shot beat the buzzer or didn't it? That was the question on everybody's lips Dec. 19 at the New Year Classic when Myles Andrews of Yokota hit a jumper from the key with .4 seconds left on the clock to help Yokota rally from a 10-point deficit with three minutes left for a 46-44 win over host American School In Japan. It propelled the Panthers to the championship game with Kubasaki. A non-shooting foul was called on ASIJ as time expired, or so it seemed. The game officials conferred and placed four-tenths of a second back on the clock ... seemingly not enough time for anybody short of Ralph Sampson himself to catch and shoot an inbound pass as time runs out. Observers were neatly divided along party lines, Yokota supporters saying Andrews shot before time expired; ASIJ fans suggesting that Andrews didn't have time to catch the ball at his waist, hit the floor, then shoot in that amount of time. From my perspective, Andrews did release the ball from his hand before the buzzer sounded. Whether the clock restarted when it was supposed to rests entire with two people: 1) the referee who holds his hand up in the air until the ball is inbounded, then brings it down to indicate the clock to start, and 2) the clock operator, who is charged with starting the clock the instant the referee's hand comes down. In this case, Yokota got the break -- and later their heads handed to them 58-39 in the championship game.
-- WRESTLING BOUTS OF THE QUARTER: St. Mary’s Chidi Agbo and Kadena’s Gabe Ahner hooked up in two heavyweight battles that determined the team titles in both the individual-freestyle and dual-meet tournaments. In the former, Agbo pinned Ahner in 3 minutes, 51 seconds, and in the latter scored a two-period decision over Ahner.
Published: March 26, 2011
A nugget of history from last Sunday’s Seoul International Marathon involving a health promotion coordinator at Camp Humphreys named Dave Elger, who’s been running competitive marathons since 1971.
Elger became just the 22nd runner in history to run a sub-3-hour marathon in five different decades, clocking the Seoul Marathon course in 2 hours, 59 minutes, 27 seconds. Others were:
-- Sept. 25, 1977, the inaugural Mayor Daley Marathon in Chicago, 2:25:25 (he finished third).
-- Oct. 14, 1984, the Lakefront Marathon in Milwaukee, 2:29:09 (he came in fifth).
-- April 19, 1994, the Boston Marathon, 2:34:48.
-- July 14, 2001, World Athletics Veterans Association Marathon in Brisbane, Australia, 2:45:40.
His spread between his first sub-3-hour marathon and his latest is the longest in marathon history. And he’s run those five marathons on three different continents, North America, Asia and Australia.
Elger’s been the health promotion coordinator at Camp Humphreys since 2009. Prior to that, he spent nearly 10 years in the same capacity with U.S. Naval Hospital Camp Lester on Okinawa.
A native of Wisconsin, aged 57, Elger first ran in high school and went on to earn track and field All-America honors in 1975 and ’76 at Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
He ran his first marathon at 17 in 1971 in Whitewater, Wis. As he tells it, "I was on pace to break 3 hours through 25 miles (2:51) when I took a wrong turn and ended up running 3:05."
Elger said he’d had an eye on running marathons in five decades for a few years, then read a story in Runners World last year about three who had fun sub-3-hours in five decades.
"I noticed that there are plenty of guys running sub-3 after age 50, but the number drops off dramatically after age 55," said Elger, who had done his last sub-3 at the Napa Valley Marathon in California in 2009 at age 55.
After he’d moved to Korea in September 2009, "I had a heel problem and wasn’t running much, but once that cleared up, I started to train seriously," Elger said.
After running a half-marathon in 1:24 in October, he felt he was fast enough, "so it was a question of building enough endurance through the winter to take a shot at breaking three hours" in a full marathon.
"I kept an eye on the expanding list of runners … and figured that the longer I waited, the harder it was going to be. So I entered the Seoul Marathon and was finished in 2:59:27 to become the 22nd runner to make the list."
He’s run 51 marathons, including a national championship while in college as well as his bronze showing in Chicago, "but this (Seoul) ranks up there as one of my most memorable."
To read about Elger online, click here.
Published: March 26, 2011
To address the rumourama (two mongers, no waiting) regarding Far East tournaments for spring sports, let me say emphatically, articulately and loudly, with phone confirmation this morning from DODDS Pacific athletics coordinator Don Hobbs:
ALL FAR EAST SPRING SPORTS TOURNAMENTS ARE STILL A GO.
No decision has been made to cancel or otherwise alter the Far East tournament schedule.
A decision on that is due April 8.
DODDS Pacific officials will meet next week and beyond to weigh all the pros and cons, can they be done, will any of them have to move, etc.
In the meantime, puh-LEEZE, do NOT buy into the rumour mills. Check with Stripes. Check with your coaches. Check with your athletics directors. Check with your school administration.
The minute somebody approaches you and says: "Well, I heard …" … take it not with a grain of salt, but with a grain elevator.
And if I hear something to the contrary, you'll know it in a New York second.
Published: March 20, 2011
Since stepping into this parallel universe at precisely 2:46 p.m. March 11 at the parking lot of the Stars and Stripes and Hardy Barracks compound, I’ve been of the mind that some things are more important than sports, more important than Far East tournaments, something about remembering to feel blessed that we have our lives, and to feel for those less fortunate than we, whose lives were changed forever by the 9.0 Tohoku-Kanto temblor and ensuing tsunami.
Then, this afternoon, I caught on the news some photographs of the Tohoku High School baseball team from Sendai, being sent off to the cheers of classmates brandishing a cardboard sign that read in part, "Never be defeated, Tohoku" and "We stand by you!" … as they traveled to Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, some 500 miles southwest, for the All-Japan Senior High School Baseball Tournament.
And it got me to thinking. If during these troubled times, with people having lost everything, thousands dead and missing, gasoline and kerosene as premium as gold, a high school from hard-hit Miyagi Prefecture can send a baseball team to Koshien, the shrine of Japanese baseball … how in the world can DODDS possibly even think about canceling the spring Far East tournaments?
Despite the devastation all around them, the baseball team and the school opted to put some normalcy in the lives of not only themselves, but the community around them. And they became a cause célèbre, truly Japan’s team, a symbol of the area’s fervent vow to rebuild from scratch and a team that every Nihonjin could stand behind.
And that’s one of the "pros" that DODDS officials said they would discuss as they weigh whether to hold Far East tournaments in soccer May 16-20, softball, baseball and track and field May 23-26. As much as people should take into account the problems some schools might have in traveling to Far Easts, and remembering and respecting the devastated communities, the dead and the missing … there’s also this aching need for normalcy in the lives of high school students, wherever they may happen to be.
Whether the best- or worst-case scenarios happen at Fukushima Dai-ichi, seniors, especially, have had their school years turned upside down by this whole horrific nightmare. Many hundreds, perhaps thousands, have uprooted and left for the States, some never to return, others to come back by the end of spring break or sooner, leaving precious little time for teams in Japan to resume practices and/or games and prepare for Far Easts. What to do about the rest of their academic school year? Do they register for school in the States or do they complete their education via DODDS Virtual High School? They might never enjoy the experience of going to prom or graduating with the classmates they’ve stood beside for four years.
Yet elsewhere in the Pacific, in Korea, Okinawa and Guam, it’s business as usual. A full slate of DODDS Korea soccer games took place over the weekend. On Okinawa, a track and field meet was held over two days at Kubasaki and Chatan Stadium, along with a baseball game and four soccer matches over a four-day span, plus a girls softball game on Thursday. Guam’s high school basketball championship and third-place games were played Friday at the University of Guam.
Before Tohoku High decided to press ahead with the Koshien tournament, I’d have been disappointed but understanding if Far East tournaments were called off. But now, in the face of Tohoku High’s journey to the Japan nationals at Koshien, if I were a DODDS official, I’d be very, very hard pressed now to tell the Pacific that DODDS is foregoing Far East spring sports tournaments.
If one of Japan’s own is doing this, how can you logically explain to our own students that we can’t do Far East tournaments?
Here’s how you can still do the Far East tournaments, assuming that too few students return to Yokota, Zama American, Nile C. Kinnick and Robert D. Edgren High Schools to resume their seasons:
-- Soccer. Eliminate the Division II tournaments for this year only, boys at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, girls at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Bring all the teams that can travel together on Okinawa for an all-comers combined Far East tournament, boys at Kubasaki and girls at Kadena. You’d have three teams each from Korea, two each from Okinawa, plus Guam High and any other Guam teams that would like to come, plus Hong Kong International School. You could assume also that Matthew C. Perry and E.J. King of southwest Japan, far from the afflicted area, could travel to Okinawa. As far as those out-of-country teams which would have to fly into mainland Japan to get to Okinawa, one word: Fukuoka. Give banners to the winning team in each tournament, regardless of classification. And trust: Those Division II teams are VERY, VERY good. Matthew C. Perry, the defending Boys D-II champions, are 10-1 so far this season and won the Nagoya Invitational for the first time. Daegu American’s girls? They beat defending D-I champion Seoul American over the weekend and have begun their season 4-0-1.
-- Softball: Scheduled for May 23-26 at Kadena Air Base. Do just like you did last year and hold a combined tournament including Division I and II teams, and give one banner to the overall champion.
-- Baseball: It’s probably the one tournament that will have to change location, since it’s slated for May 23-26 at Zama American. I say bring it to Okinawa and play it at Fields 4 and 9 on Camp Foster’s Gunner’s Fitness & Sports Complex. Again, a combined D-I and D-II tournament, with one banner to the overall winner.
-- Track and field: Scheduled for May 23-25 at Kubasaki High School. It stays put, though the field will likely be scaled down with fewer Kanto Plain-area teams coming.
And if the situation at Fukushima Dai-ichi changes for the better, and if it just so happens enough athletes return to those Kanto schools and they can resume practice and play enough games to be fine-tuned for Far East … let ’em come. The more, the merrier.
But in the face of what Tohoku High has chosen to do … for the sake of whatever normalcy we can provide for the lives of student-athletes from Misawa to Mangilao … I beseech DODDS-Pacific’s elders: PLEASE, carefully consider not scrapping your Far East spring sports tournaments. It took Tohoku High’s example to convince me, but I’m a believer now: The rewards will be worth it.
Published: March 17, 2011
Simply to address the wildly spinning rumour mill regarding Far East spring sports tournaments.
For now, they’ve not been canceled, according to DODDS Pacific athletics coordinator Don Hobbs, who says their fate is being discussed at the highest levels, with April 8 being the latest date a final decision will be issued.
All the pros and cons are being debated, Hobbs said. On the pros side, there’s the fact that allowing the tournaments to continue as scheduled, soccer May 16-20 and baseball, softball and track May 23-26, would provide some "normalcy" in the lives of student-athletes, coaches and parents.
On the other side of the coin, there are fuel and electricity shortages, highways and railways still in limited service and the threat of radiation from the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant to consider.
"The question then being, how can we give normalcy to our people when there are tens of thousands who will be living abnormal lives for the rest of their lives?" Hobbs said.
Unless thing settle down soon enough for DODDS Japan athletics to resume, or at least be able to practice, staging Far East tournaments shouldn’t be in the conversation, one athletics director said.
"We need to resume some normalcy in our league schedule first," Yokota AD Tim Pujol said.
All those factors will continue to be discussed by Hobbs and people at DODDS Pacific’s highest levels. "We believe April 8 is a good suspense date for planning purposes," he said.
Published: March 16, 2011
Musings, mutterings and the occasional schmahts as Ornauer continues to breathe sighs of relief after having finally gotten home for more than a few days, and deals with the unending visions of Friday’s earthquake in his head:
-- Without question, in the wake of the nightmare of last Friday, sports of any sort is a modest issue compared to the horrific images and visions of walls of water crashing ashore at 500 mph, cars, buildings and trains being tossed about like toys and the more than 500 aftershocks which continue to shake the area.
-- Yes, we’ve lost several sports events along the way, and it has coaches and players more than a little upset. I am, as well.
-- But before you lament what you may have lost in terms of meets, matches and games your track, soccer, golf, baseball and softball teams play … think of the poor souls left without a home, with no food, water or food, rails or gasoline to get anywhere to find any. Think of the thousands who perished as a result of Friday’s Tohoku-Kanto quake, the resulting tsunami and aftershocks. And think of the many tens of thousands still missing, or whose bodies will never be found amid rubble or having washed out to sea.
-- “We need to feel blessed that we have our lives,” Robert D. Edgren girls soccer coach Justin Edmonds so rightly said Sunday as he, his players and others on the Eagles’ other teams, whose slate of games last weekend got scotched by Friday’s events and aftermath, awaited air transportation to get home to Misawa Air Base.
-- The casualty list of games? A full slate of DODDS Japan and Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools baseball, softball, soccer and track. Saturday’s Camellia Bowl friendship football game in Kawasaki. And the weekend American Swim Council of Japan’s Junior Olympic meet at St. Mary’s International School in Tokyo.
-- MVPs of the weekend: Clayton Fujie, DODDS Japan’s district superintendent; his transportation officer Milt Colon and 374th Airlift Wing command Chief Master Sgt. Ben Caro for their tireless work in getting every last Edgren body stranded by the quake back home to Misawa via Air Mobility Command flights. The only way home, since highways and railways northeast were knocked out of commission and will probably remain so for months, perhaps years.
-- Team Yokota came through for the Eagles and hundreds of other airline refugees in ways one couldn’t possibly imagine in the wake of Friday’s disaster. Flights inbound to Narita International Airport, 11 in all, were diverted to Yokota Air Base, and while nine of them resumed their journeys, two had to remain overnight. Their crews were put up at the Kanto Lodge; the passengers were herded to the Taiyo Community Center on the base’s west side, and pillows and blankets were spread around for the 520-plus passengers.
-- Volunteers came out of the woodwork to help care for the stranded, so many that Caro said too many volunteers came forward to help. Every last one of the hungry mouths were fed by one 374th Force Support eatery or another.
-- And without even being asked, at 7 a.m. Saturday, members of the Air Force Band of the Pacific packed their instruments, drove over to the Taiyo and spent the time the passengers waited until they could leave, playing a variety of musical numbers. Without even being asked.
-- Way to go, Team Yokota.
-- DODDS Japan sports have been canceled through the end of the month. So, too, have the DODDS Japan baseball, softball and soccer tournaments March 24-26 and the Kubasaki Spring Fling sports festival April 8-9.
-- The main problem is ensuring that teams can travel to and from various locations in Japan and also to and from Okinawa and elsewhere safely.
-- Faced with perhaps the most difficult situation of all is Edgren. Already off the beaten path some 360 miles northeast of Tokyo, it now has the specter of tsunami damage and high levels of radiation caused by the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant problems separating the Eagles from their Tokyo brethren. Right now, the only way for the Eagles to get back and forth is via railway about 10 hours to Niigata followed by a two-hour Shinkansen ride southeast into Tokyo, or via back roads taking the same route, taking about 20 hours.
-- While Tokyo-area DODDS and international schools may at some point be able to resume their playing schedule, Edgren’s spring seasons may be done for. And through no fault of their own.
-- “Disappointing, but understandable,” Kubasaki athletics director Fred Bales said. “In tough times, people have to make tough decisions.”
-- Might as well begin talking about this spring being the “lost season.” And I and so many others spent so many days counting down toward it.
-- Bales truly was a man on the move last weekend. He accompanied the Okinawa-based football players destined for the Camellia Bowl to Yokota, where they stayed for two nights. He shot a basketball around Capps Gym at Yokota High School; less than 24 hours later, he was back on Okinawa playing bass for his Handsome Stranger band as they rocked the rafters at a party on White Beach.
-- A.J. Watson, Kubasaski junior sprinter … 11.18 in the 100, 22.81 in the 200 and 53.02 in the 400 … INTO the wind on Saturday’ at Kubasaki in the Okinawa Activities Council season opener?
-- You’re kidding, right?
-- Imagine how he could fly without a wind like that.
-- Just curious, but who manufactures his shoes? Pratt & Whitney or General Electric?
-- Meanwhile, Kadena remains king and queen of the distance races, as Jacob Bishop, Anna Hernandez and Tomas Sanchez nearly ran that table.
-- Just call the Kubasaki baseball team the Comeback kids. Two games, two rallies, two come-from-behind victories in as many games against Kadena.
-- Memo to coaches playing against Taejon Christian International’s and Matthew C. Perry’s girls soccer teams: Mark up Caroline Lee and Bre’Onna Ray. They’ll smoke you.
-- Enjoyable travel moment of the week: Driving the Shuto Expressway back into town Monday from Yokota – and a relatively unimpeded trip it was, compared to the throngs headed out of town on Friday – handed my USFJ toll pass to the toll teller. Normally, these guys are a surly, non-personality lot. This guy? Big smile. “Thank you. Have a nice day. See you again.” Enough to bring a big smile to my face, and put a light on what was otherwise a very dark weekend.
Published: March 16, 2011
One thing looming on the horizon and will be here very quickly is the start of the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League season. And the question with all the events of the last five days is, whether the season will start on time, in particular the North Division teams, Misawa, Yokota and Yokosuka, because of so much commitment in the way of personnel and resources to the relief effort in the wake of the devastating Tohoku-Kanto earthquake, the resulting tsunami, gasoline and electricity shortages, damage to highways and railways and the potential for deadly radioactivity spreading around the area. We should know more as the April 23 season-opening date approaches, but if I were king for a day, I’d suggest delaying the start of the season until things settle down a little. Or at the very least, let the South Division’s three teams, Foster, Kadena and Joint Task Force, begin their schedule and have the North Division catch up whenever they can start. Play just intra-division games, with no inter-division travel in the regular season, given the need for military aircraft by the relief effort. The only inter-area game would be the Torii Bowl, between North and South Division champions, whenever that game can be scheduled. Just thinking out loud, with many tens of thousands in the community in need, that may be the way to go. Imagine how people in Yokosuka or the towns surrounding Yokota might feel if they see the lights of Berkey or Bonk Fields aglow for a USFJ-AFL night game? A bit of sensitivity goes a very long way.
Published: March 16, 2011
Not official yet, but go ahead with your plans to attend and play in the 21st Pacificwide Open Interservice Softball Tournament, May 27-30 at the Lombardo Field FourPlex and Field 5 on Yongsan Garrison’s South Post. One big change, which may irritate some, at least until they remember we almost lost this tournament: Entry fee has spiked by 150 percent, from $200 to $500. It must be paid by May 15. Tournament is open to the first 32 men’s and 16 women’s teams who sign up. An official announcement is expected from Yongsan Garrison public affairs on Thursday.
Published: March 12, 2011
Message came in from former Far East Wrestling Tournament champion and current St. Mary's assistant coach Shu Yabui, upon his return from Minnesota, where he watched his coach, Jon Rhodes, be inducted into the Minnesota wrestling Hall of Fame:
"I've just returned from Minnesota. The ceremony was great. Anyway, here are some stats about Coach Rhodes:
"Coached 23 years in Minnesota, of which 20 were from Harmony. 14 years at St. Mary's. So he's coached for 37 years. His final win-loss-tie record was 249-99-8. Won 17 conference championships, and 54 tournament team titles. 104 wrestlers won individual tournament championships. Had four undefeated seasons.
"At St. Mary's, he's won three Far East titles, four Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools regular-season and four Kanto Tournament titles. Had 45 individual champs, 19 Far East Champions and three Outstanding Far East Wrestlers. He also had two undefeated regular seasons."
Click here to read a Q & A interview with Coach Rhodes, and here for photos that Yabui shot in Minnesota.
Congratulations, Coach Rhodes! You are a giant in the sport, a man whom I liked and respected immensely, even if you and I didn't see eye to eye on a great many matters. The induction and honor are well deserved.
Published: March 12, 2011
Earthquakes, I thought, were second nature for a Master of Disaster like me. Heck, I live on Okinawa, which is smack middle of Typhoon Alley; hence, the nickname Typhoon ORNY. When I lived in Tokyo, I slept through numerous temblors; only on occasion would one of those shake, rattle and rollers make me take stock.
Like the one that hit Japan’s east coast at 2:46 p.m. Friday, March 11.
I’d just stepped out of a taxi in front of the Stars and Stripes and Hardy Barracks compound after a flight from Okinawa, readying for a full weekend of watching high school athletics.
Turns out, I stepped out of the cab right into the earthquake.
One of the gate guards pointed at the lamp post above him and said repeatedly, "Earthquake! Earthquake! Earthquake!" I replied "ji-shin" in my best Japanese, and watched as, indeed, the lamp posts quavered and the corrugated steel roof over the gate shack rattled. I’m thinking, yeah, this is a pretty good jolt, but nah, this’ll pass in a few seconds.
It kept up, though … the ground began to accordion below me … it became difficult just to stand up. A guy behind me said, "Whoo, this is a big one." I kept waiting for it to end. And it didn’t. Soon, the Hardy Barracks building, in a surreal scene, shook back and forth like I’d never seen it shake. Japanese people were shouting at their co-workers to evacuate the building. Turning around, I could see the same thing happening to the Stripes building. In the distance, a car’s security system triggered repeated car horn beeps.
All the while, trying to keep my balance, I kept thinking: Gad, is this the one? I’d heard horrific tales of the 7.9 magnitude Great Kanto Quake of September 1, 1923 which killed 140,000, and the 7.3 magnitude Great Hanshin Quake of January 17, 1995, which claimed 6,434 lives. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think it would ever happen to me.
"Worst one I’ve ever felt. In 31 years here, worst one I’ve ever felt," I said to the guy behind me.
It was supposed to be like any other weekend in which I’m on the road. This one involved two soccer matches, Robert D. Edgren at Yokota, on Friday, followed by the Camellia Bowl, a friendship game between American and Japanese high school players Saturday at Kawasaki Stadium, then the American Swim Council of Japan’s Junior Olympic swim meet at St. Mary’s International School of Sunday.
Backpack loaded with computer and accessories, small rollaway suitcase with enough clothes for the weekend – heck, I am so predictable – I followed what’s become routine over the years. My commuter flight, ANA 124 from Naha, went without incident, followed by the usual monorail run to Hamamatsucho and a taxi ride from there to the Stripes Tokyo compound.
From that point on came what felt like a parallel universe. Or setting foot onto a movie set. This wasn’t supposed to happen. But it did. And it turned far from my whole coverage weekend upside down – it changed the lives of the thousands along the East Coast, those whose lives had not been claimed by the damage from the quake itself and the ensuing tsunami, which looked like a scene from the Sean Connery 1970s movie Meteor.
While all that was happening up around Sendai and vicinity, we Stripers waited out the initial temblor on the Stripes compound helipad, then got the all-clear to return to the office. What we saw, the news crew and myself, was nothing like we’d ever seen within the walls of the third-floor newsroom at Stripes.
Clocks had been shaken off the walls. A commemorative Stripes front page next to the general manager’s office down the hall had gone askew. The newsroom TV was on the floor, shaken from its bookrack shelf against the wall. The contents of one of longtime newsroom secretary Kimie Isono’s file cabinets was all over the floor, blank forms and old school pica poles.
When I stooped down to try to help clean up, she handed me a vehicle dispatch folder and a car key and said, "I’ll clean this up. You should leave right now. There will be a lot of traffic out there."
Talk about clairvoyance.
And talk about a long, long night ahead.
I was due to drive to Yokota, where I would be staying for three days and nights while covering that docket of events, and also cover remotely soccer matches, a track meet and a baseball on Okinawa and a full slate of soccer matches in Korea.
Naturally, the first place I headed to was the Gaien entrance to the Shinjuku line of the metropolitan expressway.
Closed. Nothing but emergency vehicles on the highway.
And it turned out my cell phone – and thousands of others – wasn’t working. Too much traffic on the server, which should be expected during an earthquake’s aftermath.
No cell phone service. No e-mail. No Internet. No traffic on the highway. Gridlock everywhere else.
After waiting awhile, I returned to the Stripes compound. Going in, I saw a gaggle of Hardy Barracks guests making their way to the front gate, apparently having been told they couldn’t stay there. Sure enough, the quake caused a 2-inch gash in the middle of the building, rendering it useless. Every light was off. And I mean, if those walls could talk, as many nights as I stayed there; in fact, I lived in Room 623 in my first 16 months at Stripes …
I then stuck my head in the backdoor of the Stripes building and visited systems to ensure we were back online. The chief IT guy told me: "You’re not supposed to be here." Figured it would be worth it to chance it, so I went into one of the smaller offices and logged back in, when a second, less powerful but significant temblor hit. When the walls started squeaking and the windows rattling, I figured it was time to vamoose. Sent a quick plea to sports coaches, to let them know to e-mail game results instead of waiting for me to call.
Turns out, I shouldn’t have gone back. For the next 6½ hours were a living traffic nightmare of epic proportions. If I’d left at 3 p.m. as Isono suggested, I might have made Yokota at 8 p.m., instead of 11, when I finally did get there.
AFN Tokyo was airing satellite programming Friday afternoon and evening, with a two-minute advisory about earthquake safety every 15 minutes or so.
I turned to Inter-FM, 76.1 on the dial. Much more comprehensive local information. Turns out all highways were closed, the trains and subways weren’t running and people were being advised to stay where they were or seek shelter.
Phooey on that, I said. But then again, that left me nowhere to go, other than to try to make Yokota. Hardy Barracks was now a monument to what it once was. The Sanno? Undoubtedly packed to the gills and dealing, no doubt, with damage control issues of its own.
So … off to the regular roads I went, figuring getting through Shinjuku, perhaps the busiest rush-hour section of downtown Tokyo, would be the greatest obstacle. All roads lead into and out of Shinjuku.
And boy, they did.
It took four hours for me to negotiate seven kilometers, finally making the left turn onto Koshukaido, Route 20, the main artery into and out of the city that’s not a highway.
Anybody remember the scene in "The Day After Tomorrow" of the gridlock in New York during the heaviest of rains just before the tsunami? Imagine that, without the rain.
Anybody remember the scene in "The Ten Commandments" of the Israelites walking through the desert sands of the Sinai? Imagine that on Koshukaido’s sidewalks, where thousands, with no transportation available to them, were walking home.
It kept up like that until I hit a split in the road where Route 14 goes right toward Ogikubo, in Tokyo’s western suburbs. From there on, I took the back roads that I remembered – for the first time since moving to Okinawa in 2003 – remembered just about every little turn and reached Yokota’s East Gate two hours after leaving the traffic snarl behind.
The following afternoon, I ran into the Kadena and Kubasaki football players, along with a handful from Yokota, who were shooting around a basketball in Yokota High’s Capps Gym. On the stage, a group of parents sat, a lavish spread of lasagna, spaghetti and salad for those wishing to partake, including 15 or 20 football players who were disappointed that the Camellia Bowl got called off, but grateful that nothing terrible happened to them.
Same thing when I visited Robert D. Edgren’s four sports teams holed up in the Temporary Living Facility on Yokota’s east side. Edgren’s track team had been on a train that derailed about five stops from the nearest station to Yokota; it took them 8½ hours of waiting to be let off the train, waiting for a bus and driving 2 hours to Yokota, but nobody was hurt and everybody was safe.
When they’ll get home … when I’ll get home … remains to be seen. My flight is due to return Monday; all others were scheduled to return home Sunday. With the integrity of the highways and train lines still in question, who knows if the football players or I can even get to the airport, or the Edgren teams onto a highway or railway to get home to a Misawa Air Base that’s still without power and heat?
But if that’s our greatest worry, I think we’re doing OK, Edgren, football and Stripes refugees. My heart goes out to the poor souls along the East Coast of Japan, who had it a lot worse than we.
Published: March 11, 2011
What a day this was! I flew up from Okinawa to cover the Camellia Bowl on Saturday in Kawasaki, along with high school soccer on Friday and the Junior Olympic swim meet Sunday. Stepped out of the cab at the front gate of Hardy ... and straight into the quake. Watched Hardy Barracks shake as it never had. It's now an empty hull, still standing, but its integrity is now in question. The Stripes building handled it well and we will be publishing a paper Saturday. But it's the hundreds who perished all along the east coast who are in my thoughts.
DODDS Japan officials announced Friday that all weekend athletics activities in the Tokyo-Kanto Plain have been postponed or canceled.
-- Soccer matches pitting Robert D. Edgren at Yokota on Friday and Zama American on Saturday.
-- Girls softball games pitting Edgren at Zama on Friday and Nile C. Kinnick on Saturday.
Published: March 10, 2011
Don't expect an official announcement either way until Tuesday. But I'm told by people close to the situation that after Thursday's meeting between Yongsan Garrison command and tournament organizers, the Pacificwide Interservice Softball Tournament will once more be held over Memorial Day weekend at the Lombardo Field FourPlex. Stay tuned. And don't cancel those Dragon Hill or airline reservations (yet).
Published: March 10, 2011
They don't have tracks at their high schools, they don't have jump pits or shot put pits or discus rings. But Seoul American proved track and field could be done last spring -- heck, for years as the Seoul Track Club -- so now, Osan and Daegu American have asked for and been given approval to have track programs at its schools.
A matter now of finding facilities where athletes can practice their various disciplines, be it finding makeshift areas on base or public facilities off base that can be rented on the cheap.
And DODDS Pacific's and the three schools' goal is to have three regular-season meets that would ultimately serve as qualifiers for the Far East meet May 23-25 at Okinawa's Kubasaki High School.
Welcome aboard, Cougars and Warriors!
Published: March 9, 2011
Just to sort out a few things that have come up with regard to Far East tournaments in spring sports and classifying big and small schools into separate competitions:
DODDS Pacific’s athletics coordinator Don Hobbs tells me at this point, they’re leaning toward having one tournament for baseball to be hosted by Zama American May 23-26, since there are only four Division II teams, Daegu and Osan American in Korea and Robert D. Edgren and Zama American in Japan, participating along with eight Division I teams.
That may change next year, should Matthew C. Perry and perhaps E.J. King as well move their seasons from the fall to the spring and give Division II five or six teams.
As for softball to be hosted by Kadena High School May 23-26, they’re not sure what they’ll be doing at this point.
Both of those issues are to be fiinalised at a meeting of DODDS Pacific athletics directors scheduled for April 4-5 at Yokota Air Base, Japan, as orders for plaques, trophies and banners have to be placed soon after.
The highest-scoring Division II team in track and field will be accorded a banner, Hobbs said. That meet is scheduled for May 23-25 to be hosted by Kubasaki High School.
Published: March 8, 2011
This posted this morning on Yongsan public afffairs office's Facebook page:
RUMOR CONTROL: USAG Yongsan has not announced the cancelation of the Memorial Day PAC-Wide Softball Tournament. The weekend event has consistently run a financial deficit and the Garrison has requested that organizers provide a sustainable business case that covers costs so that they are not passed on to the Yongsan Community as a whole in this time of financial austerity. After reviewing the business case, the Garrison will announce a decision on/about March 15th whether or not the event will go forward. ~Yongsan PAO
Published: March 7, 2011
Latest on the ongoing wait for definitive word on the Pacificwide softball tournament … a meeting is scheduled for Thursday between tournament organizers, the garrison command and intermediaries for a final decision. I don’t know much beyond that, other than to conjecture that if we had had a final decision last Tuesday, the fact that they’re still discussing the matter is reason for optimism. How much, is hard to say. Stay tuned.
Published: March 6, 2011
Michael Schmidt is Seoul American's swim coach. Here is his report on the first meet of the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference season:
Saturday was the first official meet of the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference season. It was hosted by Seoul American High School and held at Camp Humphreys. Seoul American and Seoul Foreign locked horns in a battle that lasted until the very last event, with SAHS pulling off the boys, girls and overall team title. The victory came as a surprise, as Seoul American has only been training in the pool for a few weeks while Seoul Foreign has been training for months due to their participation in the Asia-Pacific Activities Conference swim league. I was pleased that my swimmers stepped up to the challenge even though they are still in the initial training phase of the season!
The highlight of the meet was when the Falcons crushed the Crusaders-held KAIAC boys 200 freestyle relay record by over a second in 1:42.80. The team of Daniel Nelson, Josh Moon, John Stoll, and John Graham shattered the record held by Seoul Foreign since 2009. Other highlights were the same group of boys taking the 200 medley relay, with freshman Stoll anchoring in a swift 25.7 freestyle, shortly after swimming the 200 freestyle.
On the girls side, newcomer Samantha Merritt turned in a triple victory in individual events (the only girl of the meet to do so), taking the 200 freestyle, 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly. She had to hold off fast-closing Seoul International School powerhouse Joanne Kim to take the 50 in a very exciting race. Already one of the fastest girls in Falcons swimming history, Merritt looks to have a very bright future representing Seoul American. Her positive attitude, bubbly personality, persistent smile, and fast swimming are a tremendous asset to the team. While Merritt seems to enjoy the team as a new student at Seoul American, she manages to have fun without letting anything get in the way of her training. That is why I feel she will continue to get stronger and dominate the freestyle events at the KAIAC Championships.
Another surprise was the Falcon team of Michele Higgins, Veronica Choe, Tiffaney Mitchell, and Merritt going from underdogs to victorious in the final event of the girls program, the 200 freestyle relay. They dropped over four seconds off their seed time to touch out Seoul Foreign for first in 2:05.62.
It was a great meet, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the swimmers can do at the next. We have a month of heavy training before heading to Yongsan International School-Seoul for our second KAIAC Meet. Then Seoul American goes international to Guam on April 6 for the 2011 Guam All-Island Invitational.
Published: March 4, 2011
An e-mail came in this afternoon from Callum McKinlay, the interim athletics director at Morrison Academy, home of the Far East Boys Division II Basketball Tournament champion Mustangs. McKinlay says he’s gotten word from an alumnus who is willing to put up a sizeable check to help stage a "winner-take-all" showdown between Morrison and Division I champion Kubasaki of Okinawa. Few details are available at this point. The obvious difficulty would be that athletes from both teams are off doing other sports now, and their time would be divided between practice for their spring teams and for basketball.
To me, the ideal time and date for it would be the Spring Fling sports festival April 8-9 at Kubasaki and Camp Foster. Play it at 7 p.m. Saturday, after all other Spring Fling events have ended. Track should be over by 3 p.m., baseball by 4. Then, gather all the athletes from all the teams and herd them into the Dragons Den. You’d have a huge crowd and a Far East tournament finals-like atmosphere. Home advantage? Maybe, until you consider all the international schools who would undoubtedly be cheering for Morrison’s MKs.
Published: March 4, 2011
A highly placed official within Army Community Services at Yongsan Garrison says we should know for sure "by Monday" the fate of the Pacificwide softball tournament, whether it will move elsewhere or if, by some miracle, Tuesday’s decision to cancel the tournament would somehow be reversed. Apparently, there is still quite a bit of talk at the highest levels behind the scenes. I sure hope that for the sake of especially those who spent beaucoup bucks on non-refundable airline tickets that the tournament will be held SOMEwhere on the peninsula. Stay tuned.
Published: March 3, 2011
To the Pacific, indeed worldwide, softball community: I’m still in dogged pursuit of the reasons and rationale behind the cancellation of the Granddaddy of ’em all, the oldest and proudest softball tournament in the region. Hard to believe, the million-dollar softball complex will sit idle, as apparently will I, on Memorial Day weekend for the first time since 2002.
Many a reason, much speculation, have been bandied about, both here and on Facebook, wondering about the reasons. I’ve heard everything from legalities to fiduciary concerns to, very simply, the little value added to the community. The longer the silence, the more the speculation and rumour will be hurled on those sites and in other message boards such as SeriousSoftball (dot) com. That’s what social networking does; it furthers the curiosity, conversation and wonder about what’s really afoot here.
As to the idea that such softball tournaments don’t add anything to the community, may I remind one and all what that type of competition ultimately leads to: The All-Armed Forces softball tournaments, scheduled for September at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.
Tournaments such as the Pacificwide for years have served as a starting ground, a testing ground, a proving ground for players new to interservice circuits but who would love to represent their service while playing in the Armed Forces national championship at the same time. It’s also a way for those who’ve been to “the show” to sharpen up their game. It’s a chance for coaches of the various All-Service teams to come scout the “next big things” in Pacific softball, or from wherever else the players might travel.
For a couple of years in the mid-1980s, the Amateur Softball Association actually sanctioned the old San Miguel Tournament as its Pacific Interservice Championship. Don’t take my word for it; you can find a story quoting then ASA Pacific Metro commissioner Don McKinney about it.
Players who sparkle at the Pacificwide, well, their names filter to those who run the various All-Service tryout camps. Then, those All-Service chiefs send inquiries to those players’ home bases and the players in turn send their resumes up the chain, to have them blessed by their units, fitness centers and parent commands, all the way on to Air Force Services at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas; the Navy’s MWR command at Millington, Tenn.; Marine Corps Community Services headquarters at Quantico, Va.; and the Army’s training camp headquarters at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.
Once selected for an All-Service camp, the soldier, sailor, airman and Marine not only must maintain their job skills, grooming and uniform standards as well as train hard to try to make their teams … they also visit area high schools in an effort to recruit the newest members of the world’s greatest military. “Gee, you mean I can serve in the military and play softball for my service? Cool!” you might hear a student say.
It’s also a solid retention tool. For the airman who may have played college ball, who’s new to a duty section that might include an All-Air Force player will see the selection process from the desk next to his, and think to himself, “Wow, talk about a good deal. I’d like to get in on some of that.” And he himself the next spring goes out for the post team and his process of reaching the top of Mount Armed Forces begins.
The All-Armed Forces sports industry is one supported by some $1.75 billion in taxpayer funding. In order for that industry to succeed, it must be supported by MWRs, MCCS, Army Community Services and Air Force Support throughout the world, up to and including tournaments such as the Pacificwide and the July 4th Firecracker Shootout on Okinawa.
If that support continues to dwindle and take more cuts, then you harm that $1.75 billion industry, you harm recruiting and retention and you end up with more embarrassments such as the Marine Corps took last summer when it could not field a women’s team for the All-Armed Forces softball tournament.
I would utterly hate to think that that’s what is at work with the cancellation of the Pacificwide after a 21-year run at Yongsan and a 44-year run in total since its inception in the Philippines in 1967. I’m sure I speak for more than myself when I say, what else are ballplayers from Yongsan to Vicenza to think when they lose a valuable preparation tool and are left to wait and wonder why it was taken away?
There can, will and must be something left for the elite athlete to help build their game if they're to compete at the highest level of military softball. Company-level leagues, which too have been shortened and truncated throughout the years, don't provide that elite level of competition. I don't speak for myself here. Listen to the voices of the troops themselves who've been to that level. I'm sure they'd agree.