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2012: Year in review

Cuts to Far East events highlight Pacific high school sports year

Most news stories come with endings. In the case of the cuts made to DODDS Pacific’s Far East tournament program announced this month, Stars and Stripes’ No. 1 Pacific high school sports story of the year might only be beginning.

Much hinges on what happens on Jan. 1, whether Congress and the White House can come to an arrangement that would head off the so-called fiscal cliff and an automatic $500 billion in defense cuts that would take effect.

Assuming that does not happen, the changes made to Far East tournaments evolve as the biggest adjustment to the program since all Far East athletic events were canceled for the 1980-81 school year.

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Most Far East tournaments will be shorter; basketball tournaments cut two days each and wrestling one. Division I soccer tournaments will be cut by one day and Division II by two days come springtime; baseball and softball will lose a day each. Fall cuts will be announced later.

Also, the numbers of participants per team have been cut, by one per team per Far East event.

In announcing the changes, DODDS Pacific officials said they’re hoping to:

  • Hold down costs, such as per diem for coaches and chaperones traveling on orders, referees and officials, buses and drivers and on-site maintenance crews, among other things.
     
  • Bring DODDS Pacific tournaments more in line with DODDS Europe in terms of tournament lengthglut. DODDS Pacific tournaments with 12 to 16 teams have taken five to six days to complete; DODDS Europe tournaments last half that time with 1½ times the teams.
     
  • Cut down on the number of days of missed class time for Far East tournament participants.

The adjustments had nothing to do (yet) with the possible automatic sequestration budget cuts, DODDS officials said, adding that they were part of the “normal budgeting pressures” that the area office faces each year. Costs for virtually everything have risen and exchange rates, especially in Japan, have been unfavorable the last year.

No longer a part of Far East tournaments will be pool play, which typically has encompassed the first two days of those tournaments. Instead, teams will be seeded into double-elimination tournaments; the seeding process has yet to be determined.

The rest of the top 10 Stars and Stripes Pacific high school sports stories in 2012:

2. New DODDS football format foments excitement, but will it last?

Critics and friends of the Far East tournament adjustments pointed to DODDS Pacific’s new but costly format for conducting D-I and D-II football seasons, an “everybody plays everybody” de-facto weekly playoff to determine the combatants in each division’s end-of-season championship game. Every game, every week meant something, whereas in past years, many late-season games possessed little meaning. Whether the format lasts into next season — DODDS Pacific officials say it will — will likely depend on whether sequestration happens or not.

3. Yokota, Zama make Kanto Plain football’s power conference

Yokota football continued its run of league and Far East titles, now numbering 31 Kanto Plain titles in 39 years, 13 DODDS Japan crowns, five Rising Sun Bowl all-DODDS Japan titles and a second straight D-I gold. That came Nov. 17, a 55-8 home win over Kubasaki, behind the Panthers’ veteran line of Max Lester, Dylan Kessler, Victor Madaris, Jake Jackson and Jesse Hogan and the Killer B’s backfield of Donavan Ball, Morgan Breazell and Raymond Butler. A week earlier a few miles south at Camp Zama, Andre Encarnacion and the Zama American Trojans made it two D-II titles in four years, 35-20 at home over Robert D. Edgren.

4. Panthers’ Loisel shines despite injury; Far East track marks fall

Her first official act at her last Far East track and field meet in May at Yokota was injuring a shin during hurdles qualifying. Guam High senior Stefani Loisel hardly looked bothered the rest of the way, setting three meet records and breaking her own Pacific record in the 300 hurdles. It was one of 18 Far East meet records to fall, including three Pacific records and one northwest Pacific mark. Amanda Henderson sealed Pacific Athlete of the Year honors by sweeping the three distance races, while Kadena’s girls relay teams enjoyed a red-letter two days.

5. Perry soccer doubles up

Matthew C. Perry’s boys and girls soccer teams found winning Far East D-II tournament titles twice as nice in May at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. The boys, behind 64-goal scorer Tyelor Apple, added a long-sought second star to their jersey crests, outlasting defending champion Yongsan International-Seoul 2-1 in a penalty-kick shootout. On its home turf at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, the Samurai girls team, behind Sam Herritt’s four goals, made their fourth trip to the finals the charm, beating defending champion Osan American 5-2.

6. St. Mary’s wrestling approaches dynasty status

They’ve only been back at Far East for two years following a six-year hiatus, but St. Mary’s International School’s wrestling program is making the most of its time back, winning two more Far East D-I team titles to become just the second team in double digits. The Titans got gold medals from Jeff Koo, Brendan Hymas and Chidi Agbo and overwhelmed second-place Yokota 85-46 in the freestyle team standings, outlasted host Nile C. Kinnick 33-25 last February at Yokosuka Naval Base.

7. Seoul American surprise: Falcons upset Kadena for D-I baseball title

It was expected to be a battle of the Okinawa teams, 2011 runner-up Kadena and 2010 champion Kubasaki. But Chris Horton hit an extra-inning walk-off RBI single and got the win in relief as Seoul American came from behind to edge Kadena 8-7. That came a day after the Falcons surprised the Kubasaki 8-2 in the semifinals last May at Camp Carroll, South Korea.

8. Zama’s road to Far East D-II softball title went through Brooklinn

Brooklinn McElhinney hadn’t pitched in six weeks prior to last May’s Far East D-II softball tournament at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, having been sidelined since March due to a lengthy illness. But the freshman right-hander came through when she was needed most, sparking Zama American to an elimination playoff sweep, capped by the rebuilding Trojans’ 27-11 championship victory over Osan American.

9. Curtain falls on Faith Academy’s Grace & Kelly Show

Faith Academy’s girls basketball team proved better than any other in 2010 and 2011, except for Seoul American, who behind Liz Gleaves and Jordan Elliott captured the Far East D-I titles in both tournaments. Senior tandem Grace Fern and Kelly Hardeman would have none of it last February at Yokota in their final appearance after four years together on the court, combining for 44 points to power the Vanguards to a 57-33 finals triumph over Kadena for Hardeman’s and Fern’s second D-I titles together, Faith’s sixth as a school and 10th Far East title overall.

10. ASIJ rides tall in a marvelous fall

It’s said that a good fall sports season, especially in football, sets the tone for the entire school year. If that’s so, then American School In Japan set a resounding one. Two-time Far East D-I Tournament MVP Liz Thornton powered the Mustangs to their second straight volleyball title and fourth in six years. On the tennis courts, ASIJ won the overall Far East team title in its first visit to the event since 2003 and behind Kentaro Hayashi won the boys singles and doubles and mixed doubles titles. And the Mustangs also won the Asia-Pacific Invitational cross-country meet overall team title in October on Guam.

ornauerd@pstripes.osd.mil

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