TORII STATION, Okinawa — Starting next fall, Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific will hold playoffs to crown football champions, DODDS officials announced Thursday.

The format was set in a meeting this week of DODDS-Pacific district superintendents, according to DODDS-Pacific Far East Activities Council chair Don Hobbs.

“We have Far East championships in other sports, and we wanted a football playoff,” Hobbs said.

Schools will be divided based on enrollment — the line being drawn at 360 — into large schools and small schools, just like in other sports.

One DODDS team each from Japan, Korea, Guam and Okinawa will play in the large-school division semifinals.

Seven teams comprise the large-schools division: Yokota, Zama American and Nile C. Kinnick in Japan, and Kubasaki and Kadena of Okinawa. Seoul American and Guam High, the only DOD schools in their respective areas, qualify automatically for the semifinals.

Next year, Guam will host Okinawa’s champion in one semifinal, and Seoul American will host the JFL champ, with the winners meeting at the site of the Okinawa-Guam semifinal winner. The semifinal and championship sites will rotate, Hobbs said.

The small-schools format pits the teams with the best regular-season records in Japan and Korea in the championship.

Osan American and Taegu American in Korea and Robert D. Edgren and Matthew C. Perry of Japan comprise the small-school pool.

“This was built on the Rising Sun Bowl” which, since 1999, has pitted the Japan Football League and Okinawa Activities Council champions. “And with the addition of DODDS football in Korea and of Guam High,” Hobbs said, “we wanted a Pacificwide playoff.”

The news was met with a unanimous chorus of approval from coaches.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Yokota coach Tim Pujol. “I applaud the decision to include everybody. For the first time, you get a fair comparison of everybody. If it’s worth it to fly 14 teams to Okinawa for a Far East tournament, then it’s certainly worth two weeks of playoffs. It’s progress.”

“It will be a great opportunity for a showcase of great football throughout the Pacific,” said Sergio Mendoza of Okinawa’s Kadena Islanders.

The small-school lineup is contingent, Hobbs said, on whether Perry, whose program folded last year due to lack of players, can field a team in 2005.

If not, then Edgren will play for the small-schools title as the lone Japan representative.

Perry principal Alice Berard says “there is interest” in reviving the program, adding there’s already been one meeting of the school, students and parents and more are scheduled.

“We’ll know by the end of January,” she said. “It’s a matter of whether interest turns into action.”

Hobbs acknowledged there might be inequities that will have to be worked out.

The most glaring one, Pujol pointed out, is that only one of Japan’s three teams and one of Okinawa’s two teams will qualify for the large-school playoffs, while Seoul American and Guam High get a free pass.

“It’s difficult to take all those factors and come up with a system that’s totally equitable,” Hobbs said. “But we’ve come up with a playoff system that’s doable. We have a system that’s fair to all parties for the time being.”

Perhaps standing to benefit most from the new system are Okinawa’s Kadena and Kubasaki High Schools.

Under the new format, Kadena and Kubasaki will cobble together the best players from each of their split squads into Panthers and Dragons varsity teams, which will then play a best-of-three series for the right to qualify for the large-school semifinals.

“It will be especially great to see the Panthers and Dragons of Okinawa come back to life,” Mendoza said. “This is really exciting. It’s great to start preparations and know where we’re headed.”

Hobbs suggested that Seoul American might do the same thing in the Korea regular season, starting with two split squads and forming one varsity team later in the season for playoff purposes.

Otherwise, regular seasons should remain the same in Japan, where Zama, Edgren, Yokota, Perry and Kinnick play a double round-robin slate, and on Guam, where Guam High will continue in its regular league. Unless things change in Korea, Seoul, Osan and Taegu will play each other twice.

Even if tiny Osan and Taegu can’t compete with Seoul, at least Korea’s smaller programs know they have something to play for, said Osan American coach Tony Alvarado.

“Our goal is still to beat Seoul and be the best team in Korea,” Alvarado said. “But this [playoff] puts us on a level playing field.”

Having a rainbow to chase at the end of regular season in any sport “does make a difference in our other programs,” Berard said. “Even if they get beat by bigger schools week to week, they know they have a chance to be competitive when they go to Far East.”

Even with Okinawa’s schools beefing up with their varsity teams instead of split squads, Pujol said simply: “Bring it on.”

“I relish the challenge,” Pujol said. “This coming fall is going to be one to remember.”

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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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