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Say this for Steve Boyd: He relishes a challenge.

Boyd, who turned moribund football and basketball teams at Robert D. Edgren in Japan into winners and led Seoul American’s boys basketball team to its second Far East Class AA Tournament title last February, has taken on a new project: keeping the Falcons’ tennis team winning.

Seoul American’s second-place finish in 2001 was the best in the biennial tournament by a Department of Defense Dependents Schools team since 1989.

Boyd must try to equal or exceed that standard without the team’s top stars of the past couple of years — Josh Pierson and Olivia Anglade. Pierson took third place in singles and won the boys doubles title in 2001, while Anglade finished fourth in that Far East tournament.

And Boyd will assume the Falcons’ helm not having coached high school tennis in 11 years.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Boyd, in his fourth school year at Seoul American after nine years at Edgren. “I’m excited. I haven’t done it in awhile.”

Regular-season play begins Thursday in Korea, Saturday in Japan and on Sept. 18 on Okinawa. Tennis is not played in the fall on Guam.

Boyd coached tennis in Georgia before coming to the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system.

After coaching tennis in the fall of 1992 at Edgren, he took over the Eagles’ boys basketball and football teams, racking up five straight fifth-place finishes in Class AA basketball and a runner-up finish in 1998.

Taking on something new is not new for Boyd. In addition to coaching the Falcons to a Class AA basketball title, Boyd has coached Seoul American’s boys soccer team the last three years though he’d never coached soccer.

“I’m just trying to help out the high school a little bit. We’re a little stretched for coaches,” Boyd said.

Football, which becomes a DODDS high school sport in Korea this year after being run by youth services since 1978, would seem to be more of a fit for Boyd. But he shied away from that, and ironically, former Falcons tennis coach Julian Harden now heads up Seoul American’s football team.

Athletic director Don Hedgpath approached Boyd last spring “when it became known that I wasn’t interested in coaching football,” Boyd said.

“I said I’d do it if push comes to shove,” Boyd said. “There’s not the stress involved in tennis. You usually don’t have eligibility problems, you have kids who enjoy the sport and are dedicated to it. And I’ve played it myself. It’s something I can do to give myself some exercise and maybe help out kids with some fundamental skills.”

Boyd will try to fend off a pair of formidable obstacles on the road to the 2003 Far East tournament Oct. 30-Nov. 1 at Kubasaki High School on Okinawa.

First among Boyd’s challenges is replacing Pierson and Anglade.

“Those were two extraordinary athletes,” Boyd said. “I don’t see that kind of talent. Pierson is a rare breed, a fine tennis player, and Olivia could do it all. She made herself a good tennis player. Those are diamonds in the rough and they don’t come along every now and then.”

At least on the girls’ side, the Falcons don’t seem to have a problem. Five of six players return, including former Osan American star Alicia Davis and twin sisters Megan and Regan Geiger.

“The boys is a different story; we only have one player back,” Boyd said. “But we should be competitive.”

The other obstacle might be tougher to overcome. International schools historically have fared much better than their DODDS counterparts.

A veteran coach, Hoa Nguyen of Okinawa’s Kadena Panthers, who has four returning boys players, can explain the disparity.

“Most of the [international school] kids play one sport, while all our kids play three sports. That’s the difference,” he said. DODDS students “play tennis, then they move to a winter sport, then a spring sport, then go on vacation for two months and then come back.”

International schools also have continuity working for them. Players are “there for two to four years, their entire high school career, whereas some of our kids leave every two years. The international school kids stay, they have the same coach until they graduate,” Nguyen said.

International school players’ families are largely well-to-do, and part of that wealth is invested in their children getting private instruction “year-round,” Nguyen said.

“It’s a different sort of dedication to a particular sport that they love. And we don’t have that,” Nguyen said.

That’s the type of challenge that Boyd has relished over the years. Unlike his Edgren basketball and football programs that he built from the ground up, he has something to work with that could make noise in the Far East tournament.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Boyd said.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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