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The prep football teams in South Korea are heading in a different direction this fall.

After a quarter-century under the youth services umbrella, Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Korea is taking over the high school tackle football program.

“Exciting times in Korea,” said Dr. Bruce Jeter, the DODDS-Korea district superintendent who’s overseeing the transfer of the peninsula’s three teams from the Korea Youth Activities League-Senior division.

The same teams that participated in the old league — the Yongsan Falcons, Osan Cougars and Taegu Warriors — now add the name “American High School.”

Play begins Saturday, with Osan American visiting Seoul American at 1 p.m. Jeter will be on hand to toss the coin in a pre-game ceremony expected to feature the Seoul American Junior ROTC color guard and school band.

Seoul American, Osan American and Taegu American play a double round-robin schedule through Oct. 25. A league all-star team will then be selected for the 11th World Bowl against the Singapore Falcons — a tradition begun in 1992 between the youth activities leagues of Singapore and Korea. It’s tentatively scheduled for Nov. 22 at Singapore American School.

While DODDS-Korea is now on the football map, Jeter and DODDS-Pacific activities coordinator Don Hobbs on Okinawa cautioned against rushing teams to compete against established DODDS programs in Japan and Okinawa.

“There has to be some evolving and growth” in Korea before it can compete in a Pacificwide playoff with Japan and Okinawa, which meet in the annual Rising Sun Bowl All-Japan championship, said Hobbs.

“I could see eventually down the road, finding an avenue to bring them into the Rising Sun picture, but it’s just too early in the life of high school ball in Korea.”

“We’re in the infancy stage,” Jeter added. “It’s not our goal to say we went somewhere and played somebody. We’re trying to get a program off the ground and make it vibrant and competitive. It’s a new venture for us, but we’re excited to take it over.”

And it’s been a long time coming, Jeter said.

“DODDS should be running football,” he said. “It makes us like the other programs, puts us all on common ground with other DODDS programs that sponsor football.”

Getting it to work, Jeter said, was the biggest dilemma.

The primary obstacle was the disparity in enrollment among the three schools.

“The problem is the pool of players available” at Osan and Taegu, with enrollments of just more than 100 — far smaller than Seoul American’s 600-plus.

In fact, Taegu’s viability was “up in the air,” Jeter said, until a few days ago. The Warriors will be composed of 12 Taegu players and seven from Pusan, who’ll be bused 90 minutes every other day for combined workouts at Camp Walker’s Kelly Field.

“We’ve had a hard time getting a team together,” Taegu coach Sam Alsup said. “We’re not a big team, but we hope to surprise some people.”

Osan has the numbers — 30 players, the most in the program’s history. Head coach Tony Alvarado, an Osan assistant last year, says that’s partially due to the school being able to dress 15-year-olds — something prohibited by 7th Air Force youth services regulations.

“We had more restrictions as to who could play. This year, things have opened up,” he said. “We were able to do some recruiting. And we did some offseason summer conditioning and weightlifting. We have a lot more discipline, the kids are dedicated and want to win. We have a good senior group, and there’s a lot of pride and school spirit.”

Youth services permitted players ages 15-19 to suit up for football, and there were no grade-point average requirements. Under high school rules, 18 is the age limit, and DODDS-Pacific mandates a 2.0 GPA or higher, with grades reviewed weekly.

Still, on roster strength alone, Seoul American appears to have an overwhelming edge, something that worries Jeter.

“Our main concern is setting up a competitive atmosphere, to where every team has a chance to win when they step on the field,” Jeter said.

Aside from personnel problems, there was the cost of starting up the league, estimated at around $300,000, for everything from uniforms and pads, practice pylons, bus transportation and pay for game referees. Support within the military community, along with the transfer of some equipment from youth services to the high schools, has helped, Jeter said.

Switching to a full 11-man format is another adjustment. The Korea Senior League used nine players during the regular season, only going to 11 for the World Bowl.

“It’s good,” said Alvarado, who coached high school football in Texas and said he had trouble adjusting last year. “It’s good to go back to doing what I did for so long.”

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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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