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Junior jumper Kalil Irby, Zama's male Athlete of the Year.
Junior jumper Kalil Irby, Zama's male Athlete of the Year. (Grace Bryant/Special to Stripes)

It’s tough to select Athletes of the Year when schools have a full slate of sports in a normal school year.

But 2020-21 was even tougher, DODEA-Pacific coaches and athletics directors said, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Some high-contact sports such as football, basketball and wrestling were not played Pacificwide.

“It was very different this year, for a variety of reasons,” longtime Yokota AD Tim Pujol said.

“Having very few sports this year made it challenging,” Daegu AD Blake Sims said.

While DODEA-Pacific selected region-wide Athletes of the Year in 2020 despite the spring season being curtailed due to the coronavirus, it elected to not do so this school year, DODEA-Pacific athletics coordinator Tom McKinney said.

He said the area office left it up to schools to select their own top athletes, two per school. Most selected one boy and one girl. Osan selected two boys.

It was an unusual year for sports in the Pacific in general.

Senior infielder McKayla Paine, Kubasaki's female Athlete of the Year.
Senior infielder McKayla Paine, Kubasaki's female Athlete of the Year. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes   )

For the first time since the early 1970s, DODEA schools in Japan, Okinawa and South Korea only played against each other and not against the non-DODEA entities that populate their respective regions. Many of those schools’ athletic programs were shuttered due to the coronavirus.

Far East tournaments in all but a handful of sports were shelved; just marksmanship, track and cross country were held virtually.

DODEA-Japan schools played intra-squad sports until spring, when soccer, track, baseball and softball were offered. DODEA schools in Okinawa and Korea offered tennis, cross country and golf in the fall and the full line of sports in spring. Korea played volleyball in the fall and boys basketball in springtime.

Senior goalkeeper Tanner Marlowe, Yokota High School male Athlete of the Year.
Senior goalkeeper Tanner Marlowe, Yokota High School male Athlete of the Year. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes )

Among the reasons selecting top athletes was harder at Yokota, Pujol said, was the school had more nominees than usual, oddly enough.

“With the lack of exposure across the board, people tended to nominate based on their own observations, and some coaches felt tied to athletes on their own teams,” Pujol said.

Daegu benefitted from having volleyball and boys basketball, but even without them, Sims said seniors Bethani Newbold and Ethan Gamez might have won that school’s Athlete of the Year honors anyway.

“He would have played football and she would have played basketball … It might have been easier to choose, (but) it might have still come down to those two,” Sims said.

Senior distance runner Isamar Vargas, Kadena's female Athlete of the Year.
Senior distance runner Isamar Vargas, Kadena's female Athlete of the Year. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes )

2020-21 DODEA-Pacific high school Athletes of the Year by school

Daegu – Ethan Gamez, senior, baseball; Bethani Newbold, senior, volleyball, softball.

Robert D. Edgren – David Blake, junior, cross country, track and field; Morgan Erler, junior, cross country, track and field.

Guam High – Andre Johnson, senior, track and field; Sameha Wilbanks, junior, cross country, track and field.

Humphreys – Collin Metcalf, senior, volleyball, basketball; Zoe Weidley, volleyball, softball.

Kadena – Gideon Summers, senior, cross country, soccer; Isamar Vargas, senior, cross country, track and field.

E.J. King – Tyler Gaines, freshman, cross country, track and field; Jae Garland, senior, tennis, soccer.

Nile C. Kinnick – Austin Shinzato, junior, cross country, track and field; D’Ajia Mitchell, senior, cheerleading, track and field.

Kubasaki – Arthur Parra, senior, cross country, track and field; McKayla Paine, senior, softball.

Osan – Gregory Lunn, senior, track and field; Parker Hendrickson, freshman, cross country, track and field.

Matthew C. Perry – Yugo Cooley, senior, tennis, soccer; Rayna Ralston, cheerleading, marksmanship, swimming.

Yokota – Tanner Marlowe, senior, golf, soccer, tennis; Erica Young, senior, golf, softball, volleyball.

Zama – Kalil Irby, junior, track and field; Aubrey Giles, junior, cross country, soccer.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com

Twitter: @DaveOrnauer

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