It would be perfectly understandable if coaches and athletes gathered Saturday at Camp Humphreys gazed with one eye on the track and another on the sky.

The Korea district track and field championship has been canceled the last two years due to poor air quality. And they’re hoping it doesn’t happen a third straight year.

“Everybody has their fingers crossed,” Humphreys coach Ron Merriwether said. He and meet organizers are closely monitoring the situation, “but right now, it looks like things are a go.”

Air quality is a serious issue in the spring in Korea, and to a lesser extent Japan and Okinawa, thanks to PM 2.5 dust emanating from China and Gobi Desert “yellow dust” from Mongolia.

Such levels are closely monitored in Korea; anything Air Quality Index reading above 150 is considered unhealthy and can be cause to postpone or cancel athletic events. Last May 6, the AQI was 286 at start time and the Korea district meet was canceled for a second straight year.

Saturday’s forecast calls for elevated, but not unhealthy levels. At noon Thursday, the level was 117, according to

Saturday’s meet is one of the highlights of a weekend filled with district events in Japan, Okinawa and Korea – the final full weekend of meets, matches and games before Far East week May 21-23.

For track and field athletes who have yet to qualify for the Far East meet May 21-22 at Yokota, Saturday brings a sense of urgency, since it’s the last weekend in which they can qualify.

Names of qualifiers must be at the DODEA-Pacific area office next week for airline ticketing purposes, DODEA-Pacific athletics coordinator Tom McKinney said.

“It’s a meet that means something,” Kubasaki coach Kenneth Gipson said of the Okinawa district finals Saturday at American Village Stadium in Chatan. “It’s an opportunity for kids to go to Far East. A lot of kids will be at their peak now.”

All three districts are “gearing themselves up for a Jim Dandy of a final,” said Bruce Carrick, longtime Kanto Plain meet marshal and gatekeeper of Pacific records at

The Kanto finals are actually on May 12, but Saturday’s meet, at Yokota, is one of two “last-chance” Far East qualifiers for Japan athletes; the other being next Tuesday, also at Yokota.

“The best efforts … will be by those who have a chance to qualify but haven’t made it yet,” Carrick said.

Other best efforts may come in the high jump and long jump in Korea:

-- Humphreys’ Quintin Metcalf high-jumped 1.96 meters last week, .04 short of the Pacific record of 2.00 set in 2011 by Kadena’s Lotty Smith.

-- Seoul American’s Alyse Neal has matched her Far East meet record in the long jump, 5.30 meters, twice this season and has said she has her eyes on the Pacific mark of 5.42, set 12 years ago and matched in 2010.

“It might happen,” Merriwether said. “Hopefully, they’ll do it.”

District finals in other sports are already underway in Japan and Korea. DODEA-Japan’s baseball and softball tournaments began Thursday at Zama, while soccer also got under way Thursday, boys at Nile C. Kinnick and girls at Matthew C. Perry.

Yokota is seeking three-peats in baseball and boys soccer, while Perry’s girls hope to defend their soccer title on home turf and Kinnick is trying to make it back-to-back softball titles at Zama.

Championship pairings are already set in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Blue Division soccer tournaments, which began Wednesday, and they have a decidedly international-school and red-and-white flavor to them.

Seoul Foreign’s boys and girls play in both KAIAC Blue finals Saturday against Yongsan, the boys at Taejon Christian and the girls at Camp Walker in Daegu.

One could easily call the boys and girls third-place matches the “DODEA Korea championships.” Seoul American plays Humphreys for third place in the boys, while the Falcons take on dethroned two-time tournament Osan for third in the girls.

Twitter: @ornauer_stripes

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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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