YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – Much will be different Saturday about a high school wrestling tournament formerly known as “Beast of the East.”
For one, the tournament has been renamed the Kinnick Individual Tournament. For another, “Beast’s” defending champion, Kubasaki of Okinawa, won’t be in attendance; in fact, no teams outside of Japan will appear for the first time since 1999. And junior varsity wrestlers will beef up the field, to 121 this year, organizers said.
“There will be a different feel to it,” said host coach and co-tournament director Gary Wilson.
The Japan-only field features three returning Far East Tournament champions, all from international schools. Regular participant Shonan Military Academy, a Japanese school, has annually provided strong competition for its American counterparts, organizers said.
The increase in JV wrestlers will likely mean many a quick end against their experienced counterparts, and with the absence of Kubasaki and Kadena far fewer competitive bouts in the early rounds, Wilson said.
“It will be hard to find some of those bigger matchups,” he said. “There will be a lot of one-sided bouts. The JV will end up with more bouts this year, which will help for the future if they decide to open it up next year and let outside teams in again.”
While some weights such as 108 and 168 will have only four wrestlers, “unlike some ‘Beasts,’ we have full 16-man brackets,” Wilson said. “Some will get a lot of work. Others won’t. We’ll make the best of it.”
Also not in attendance at Kinnick will be E.J. King; the Cobras wrestlers will accompany the boys and girls basketball teams for weekend bouts at Daegu against various Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Blue Division schools.
E.J. King’s location, nearly 700 miles southwest of Tokyo, puts it in a unique situation, one that King’s athletics director Charles Strobino and Daegu’s counterpart Ken Walter have tried to alleviate by striking up a continuing competitive relationship.
It costs about 40 percent less for King to fly to Pusan and bus to Daegu than for the Cobras teams to fly to the Tokyo area “where they haven’t been competitive,” Walter said.
It puts Cobras teams on a more level playing field, assistant boys basketball coach Laird Small said. “We’ll never see Yokota or Kinnick at Far East, but we will see Daegu again; hopefully, our guys won’t have the doe-eyes-in-the-headlights look the next time they see them.”
The other marquee matchup this weekend finds Kubasaki’s basketball teams visiting Kadena on Friday in the third of four regular-season meetings. Kubasaki’s girls beat Kadena for the first time in 10 seasons 48-42 on Dec. 20 to even the season series 1-1.