Athletes, coaches would like to see track and field become Far East championship event
April 24, 2003
Andrew Johnson looked as if he’d been hit by a shot put or discus.
The Yokota senior had just heard about last weekend’s Alva W. “Mike” Petty Memorial Invitational Track and Field Meet on Okinawa. More specifically, he found out that Kubasaki’s Jason Ballard, the shot put gold medalist, won with a toss of 38 feet, 7 inches — well behind Johnson’s season high of 42 feet, 9 inches.
“Man, I’m about to cry,” Johnson said. “I can beat that. I had no idea. I wish I could have gone. I’d put that kid away.”
The meet outcome “makes me so mad,” added Yokota senior high jumper and sprinter Cynthia Taylor, whose season best of 4-6 would have tied for the Petty bronze. “We can compete with that.”
Distance specialist Will Carter of Seoul American, the boys individual champion at November’s Far East cross-country meet on Guam, was tempted to attend the Petty showdown as his school’s sole representative.
Told the winning times in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs were 5 minutes, 3.8 seconds and 11:02, Carter — who’s playing soccer for the Falcons this spring — vented.
“I can’t believe I didn’t go. I could have won,” he said, adding that the unavailability of a return flight from Okinawa was among the factors that kept him home.
These athletes who viewed the meet results from a distance, as well as those who competed on Okinawa, said they want to test their skills against a Pacificwide field. For that to happen, supporters say, track and field needs to become a Far East championship sport.
“You dawg-gone right,” said Petty meet director Charles Burns, who has coached at Kubasaki for 14 years. “This right here proves it, and I mean for all the kids in the Far East.”
Ballard, a four-year, three-sport standout at Kubasaki, agreed.
“I believe it should have been since I’ve been here,” he said. “I don’t know why it isn’t. It’s just as good as any other sport. We do more rigorous training than sports like soccer and tennis, and they have Far East tournaments.”
The Petty field included about 150 athletes from international schools in Japan, missionary schools from Okinawa and Taiwan, and the two Department of Defense Education Activity programs on Okinawa. One competitor came from Japan’s Matthew C. Perry.
Kubasaki’s Serafina Smith, a sophomore sprinter and high jumper who gets large doses of Kadena and Zion Christian Academy during the season, welcomes such events, which offer a wider variety of competition.
“It’s hard to live up to your potential when you see the same people every week,” she said. Track “may not be as popular” as some other sports, “but we work just as hard.”
Besides soccer, tennis and cross country, DODEA-Pacific also sponsors Far East tournaments in girls volleyball, boys and girls basketball and wrestling.
Adding track and field, along with other sports such as golf, to the Far East championship fold “has been discussed” at Far East Activities Council meetings, said DODEA-Pacific Chief of Staff Jeff Martin, but numerous roadblocks remain.
“We don’t have track and field at every school,” Martin said, noting that the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference and outlying schools such as Perry, E.J. King and Robert D. Edgren in Japan don’t have programs.
“No tracks and no fields,” added Assistant District Superintendent Dennis Rozzi of DODEA-Korea, which includes small-enrollment schools such as Pusan American and Taegu American. “It’s a combination of lack of facilities, and that track would come up against other sports and both sports would suffer as a result.”
And budget limitations have forced across-the-board DODEA cutbacks worldwide. “We’re struggling to finance everything,” Martin said, “not just sports.”
Concerns that students would miss classroom time to attend meets have also been considered. A rule proposed at FEAC’s March meeting in Tokyo would bar DODEA students from traveling to invitationals, such as the Petty meet, if it meant time out of class.
Feedback from people who watched the Petty meet has been “excellent,” Martin said. “We look at sports such as track as valuable lifetime sports. But budgeting constraints prohibit us from adding any events. And we’re not recommending any additional things that would have kids miss any additional days of school.”
Carter and Taylor argued that DODEA should find a way to offer track. Burns said simply, “The money can be found.”
After reviewing the Petty meet results, Johnson and Taylor talked of jetting to Okinawa for the May 3 island championship featuring Kubasaki, Kadena and Zion.
Burns said they’d be welcome but could not compete for medals or team points. “They’d only enter as exhibition,” he said.
Burns, meanwhile, wants to make the Petty meet “an annual thing, so we’re already looking ahead. All the coaches here told me they’ll be back next year. Word is going to get out about this.”
Said Carter: “I’ll swim over there if my parents won’t take me.”