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In Steve Schrock’s eyes, a little something will be missing when teams convene in late February for the Far East High School Wrestling Tournament at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Kadena’s longtime coach laments “the international flavor of the tournament will be missing.”

In September, the DODDS-Pacific’s Far East Activities Council decided to limit Far East tennis, cross country and wrestling tournaments to DODDS-Pacific teams only.

DODDS-Pacific’s decision means that, for the first time since the Far East wrestling tournament’s 1976 debut, the event will be without Tokyo powers St. Mary’s International and American School In Japan, teams that have 10 Far East titles between them. And individual stars, such as two-time outstanding wrestler Zolboo Enkhbayar of Brent International in the Philippines, won’t compete.

But that’s not to say that DODDS schools and their international counterparts won’t have a chance to tangle on the mat.

Nile C. Kinnick hosts the “Beast of the Far East” invitational tournament on Feb. 5 at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. St. Mary’s, ASIJ and Christian Academy In Japan plan to enter, and Seoul American might make the trip in addition to Kadena and Kubasaki from Okinawa.

“That’s going to be an important tournament because of the change in Far East invitations,” said Kinnick coach and tournament host Robby Rhinehart. He said he considers the addition of Seoul — the defending Far East tournament dual-meet champion — vital.

“That’s one of the reasons I was pushing to get Seoul there, to make it a quality tournament,” he said. “To add them will really step up the level of that tournament. Not that it needed help.”

Schrock called the tournament “critically important” but stopped short of calling it a “real” Far East tournament.

“I’ve always looked at it as a tuneup for Far East,” he said, “to see what we have to do, learn the techniques of kids in mainland Japan and Seoul. We learn a lot from it. Kadena and Kubasaki wrestling is improved by it. We will jump through hoops to get there.”

Third-year Kubasaki coach Terry Chumley said, “I’m glad we have the opportunity to wrestle international schools before Far East.”

Added third-year Zama American coach Ian Harlow, “And the international schools will have something to prove when they get there.”

Falcons coach Julian Harden said lack of league competition in Korea makes the tournament doubly important. Only Seoul American and Osan American field full wrestling squads.

“It’s been ... a good measuring tool to show how well you can compete at the next level,” Harden said. “I’d love to be in Japan and wrestle them on a regular basis. Here, we only wrestle ourselves. We’ve found a way to make that work for us but it’s been difficult.”

Crowning DODDS-Pacific champions while keeping the international flavor at the Kinnick Invitational does provide DODDS wrestlers the best of both worlds, Harlow acknowledged.

“It’s not up to us” to dictate who can wrestle at Far East, Schrock said. “There are people beyond my pay grade who make those decisions. Whether you agree or not, you have to respect it. I just want to coach my wrestling team and get them ready, no matter who they wrestle.”

The bottom-line question, Schrock says, is how to give high school wrestlers the best possible competition within the parameters DODDS-Pacific has set.

“I’m sure the administrators are doing everything they can do for us,” he said, adding that he’s “not going to be angry” about the decision but is grateful for whatever competitive opportunities exist.

“Is it the same as they’d get in the States? No. But this isn’t the States,” he said. “We still have tournaments and I still have to get my kids ready for them.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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