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DODDS-Pacific wrestling: A matter of style

Kubasaki 180-pounder Aaron Stravers works a three-period decison over former Nile C. Kinnick teammate Ian O'Brien for the title during Saturday's Nile C. Kinnick Invitational "Beast of the Far East" Wrestling Tournament at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. DODDS Pacific athletics directors are debating whether to keep the international freestyle rules that Far East wrestling has used since the inception of the tournament in 1976, or switch to collegiate folkstyle, which would bring DODDS Pacific in line with what's done in the States and DODDS Europe.

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – Freestyle or folkstyle. Which brand of wrestling should DODDS Pacific use? That’s been questioned and debated by coaches, athletics directors and administrators at DODDS Pacific’s highest levels for more than a year, a topic of discussion at their bi-monthly video conferences.

Over the years, DODDS Pacific has gotten the majority of sports away from international rules and more towards ones commonly used in the States. But wrestling is one that hasn’t changed. Far East wrestling tournaments debuted in 1976 by using the international freestyle format and has remained that way since.

A survey of coaches and ADs in the Pacific finds a house divided. Each camp is adamant about either switching to folkstyle, to mirror what’s done in the States and DODDS Europe, or clinging to freestyle, which gives wrestlers a more rounded experience and for which more referees are readily available.

“Wrestling is the only sport that seems to be drawing a line in the sand,” said Matthew C. Perry coach Kevin Peterson, one of the folkstyle lobby.

One of the foundations, freestyle proponents say, is the available pool of indigenous officials, and the opportunity to enrich the freestyle experience by wrestling Japanese, Okinawan and Korean teams in town.

“We live in Japan and Korea; they have their traditions. They don’t do folkstyle here,” Daegu’s former coach Luke Spencer said.

DODDS Pacific has tabled the issue until its next video conference in March, Far East athletics coordinator Don Hobbs said. He said a decision will “definitely” be made by May and “hopefully” by March. “Whatever they (ADs) decide is the position I will take,” he said.

From last month’s “Beast” tournament at Yokosuka forward, coaches, wrestlers and athletics directors have engaged in a verbal tug-of-war on the subject.

Some feel that DODDS would be “taking care of its own” by choosing folkstyle.

“If it’s about consistency with what’s happening in the States and Europe, then folkstyle is the answer,” Peterson said.

DODDS schools in Japan, Korea and Okinawa have long used freestyle, while the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam uses folkstyle and always has, league president Martin Boudreau said.

Robert D. Edgren AD Jim Burgeson feels the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools, long a Far East tournament powerhouse, is the “tail wagging the dog” keeping freestyle in place.

“They don’t want to adapt; they want to dictate,” he said. “Our taxpayer dollars are being spent on something that’s being decided by international schools. That blows my mind.”

He was referring to two-time defending Far East champion St. Mary’s International, American School In Japan and Christian Academy Japan, who wrestle Kanto Plain dual meets and tournaments against Yokota, Zama American and Far East tournament host Nile C. Kinnick.

St. Mary’s coach Ian Harlow derided one coach’s characterization of a “good-old-boy network” in Kanto lobbying to keep freestyle.

“Are they blaming that for why their team is no good and can’t compete?” said Harlow, whose Titans hold 10 Far East tournament titles, second-most in history. “Was it a good-old-boy network that realized 40 years ago that they have Japanese officials and they’re already here, as opposed to having to pay to train people on base to officiate folkstyle?”

That, by itself, would be an undertaking, Seoul American assistant coach Julian Harden said. While Koreans and Japanese have been there for the long haul, Americans come and go every few years - one or two in Korea - he said.

“I can see Okinawa doing that; their people are there longer, but for us, it would be an ongoing thing,” said Harden, a former three-time Far East champion coach. “You’d need to train new people every year.”

“I don’t buy that,” Edgren coach Justin Edmonds said. “You can train the Japanese officials. You can find enough officials on the base.”

Japanese referees, versed in freestyle but not folkstyle, counter that argument. “DODDS must arrange (for new referees) themselves,” said Takashi Noda, head of the referees group that officiates Kanto matches.

Most agree that whatever style Pacific goes with, it makes no difference in a good wrestler’s ability to move on to college (folkstyle) or Armed Forces and international competition (freestyle). Burgeson recalls as a high school wrestler in Florida making the switch from folkstyle during league matches and freestyle in weekend tournaments. “They do that all the time,” he said.

Much debate has centered on which style holds the greater possibility for devastating injury. While folkstyle is about technique, escapes, reversals and defense, freestyle is more about attacking and throws.

One study indicates there are about seven injuries per 1,000 matches in freestyle and about 4.6 in Greco-Roman, while another shows folkstyle attributed to 9.6 injuries per 1,000 matches.

“If you want to use the injury argument, then we go Greco,” Yokota coach Brian Kitts said, criticizing those who insist that the format should be consistent across the board.

“Why does it have to be the same? That’s the allure of being in a different place. You want to go folkstyle. Are they going to certify weight classes to go (to Far East) because they certify weight classes to go (in Europe)? And folkstyle has 14 weight classes, freestyle 13. We’re talking more money now.”

Internationally, Kanto schools, along with Seoul American, Osan American and Daegu in Korea have long benefitted from relationships outside league play against indigenous high school and club teams. Yokota, Kitts said, visits two universities and a high school in Saitama Prefecture each year.

“We’re building international relations here. You’ll never get these experiences if we” switch to folkstyle, Kitts said.

“Local high schools have reached out and expressed interest in setting matches with us this year,” Spencer said. “There would be non-interest if we went folkstyle. With the budget, it’s harder to get off the island, so, if we stick with freestyle, this gives us more opponents than just Seoul and Osan.”

“If you want to wrestle with the local nationals, start a club,” Edmonds argued. “But as far as it being the American way and the way DODDS does business, it should be done the way it’s done in the States.”

A compromise solution, Burgeson and Peterson said, would be to have DODDS and international schools play by each other’s rules depending on who’s hosting. “We do that in every other sport; why not wrestling?” Burgeson said. “Then, the only question would be what format Far East uses.”

“If I go to St. Mary’s, I’ll play by their rules. But if they come on base, they should play by ours. That’s a true cultural exchange,” Peterson said.

That sounds good in theory, Harden said. “But whether or not it’s practical … I can’t see (a switch to folkstyle) happening anytime in the future, even if it’s force-fed.”

ornauerd@pstripes.osd.mil

 

On the Web:

From the Center for Injury Research and Policy, Columbus Children’s Research Institute, Children’s Hospital, Columbus, OH, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18067522 indicates that there are about 7 injuries per 1,000 matches for Freestyle and about 4.6 injuries per 1,000 matches for Greco.

A study by The Division of Orthopedic Surgery, University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9784815 shows that folkstyle attributed to 9.6 injuries per 1,000 matches.

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