DODDS travel ban compromise suggested
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — A possible compromise to a controversy over athlete travel was suggested during a meeting Thursday among Kadena and Kubasaki athletic directors and coaches and DODDS district officials.
Officials from Department of Defense Dependents Schools confirmed their recent policy banning travel from Okinawa to non-DODDS events if it means missing class time. But they left the door open to possible change, provided it could be demonstrated clearly that missing class doesn’t harm students’ grades.
The school officials’ meeting came a day after a “town hall” meeting during which Kadena and Kubasaki parents, led by educator and parent Lon LaGrave, discussed broadening their efforts to overturn the ban.
During the meeting in Kadena’s Schilling Community Center, 30 parents and three athletes from the two high schools circulated a petition, talked of getting military leaders involved and discussed a possible protest rally before next week’s Rising Sun Bowl.
“I’m hoping that by making a little bit of noise, things can change,” said LaGrave, a sixth-grade teacher at Camp McTureous’ Bechtel Elementary School and the father of two high school athletes at Kadena. “We need more parents and students involved.” Asked after Thursday’s meeting whether change could occur, Dr. Gayle Vaughn-Wiles, district superintendent, said, “Possibly. I want to make a data-based decision. The bottom line is to make a difference for our students.”
The travel policy was implemented last spring during a meeting of the three DODDS-Pacific district superintendents.
It prevents students from traveling to such events as the Hong Kong Invitational Basketball Tournament in December, which would involve missing two days of classroom time.
LaGrave argued in October that students at Kadena and Kubasaki lack the opportunities for travel and competition of their counterparts in Japan, Korea and Europe.
Schools in those areas participate in full-fledged leagues sponsored by DODDS in Europe and co-sponsored by DODDS and international schools in Japan and Korea. Teams in those locations miss an average of 2½ school days per season, district officials in Japan and Okinawa have said.
“The issue is equity,” Kadena girls basketball coach Ken Hudson said during the meeting. “Okinawa is not a separate [DODDS] entity that can do what it wants, but part of a whole.”
Vaughn-Wiles and other DODDS-Okinawa district officials said that competition among the two high schools, the two missionary schools and many Japanese schools on the island give Kadena and Kubasaki sufficient opportunity to compete.
Still, said Kubasaki sophomore football player and wrestler Paul Haecherl, Kubasaki teams have the chance to play only one DODDS-Pacific school, Kadena. “The other schools get to travel to foreign places and we only get to stay here.”
The rule against travel to non-DODDS events “is uniform throughout the Pacific” and was reaffirmed during this week’s Far East Activities Council meeting, DODDS-Okinawa spokesman Henry Meyer said, adding that parents battling the ban may misunderstand its intent.
“We’re not telling them they can’t travel to sports events,” Meyer said. “We’re telling them they can’t miss school time to attend those events.”
Situations on Okinawa, where schools are close to each other, and Japan and Korea, where schools are eight- to 16- hour bus trips apart, can’t be compared, Meyer said.
Japan and Korea have “no choice, if they want to travel and play. Okinawa does not,” Meyer said. “It’s like a toothache. Why would I want a toothache just because they have one?”
Vaughn-Wiles said rather than petition drives and other such activities, she would prefer that parents and others concerned approach her directly.
“I want them to be able to come to me, put the issues on the table, discuss them and come to an agreement,” she said.
During Thursday’s meeting, she asked Kubasaki athletic director Fred Bales and three-sport coach Terry Chumley, Kadena Athletic Director Brian Hill and Hudson — all opposed to the ban — to gather statistics and grade data to support their case, “then come back in a month and we can make a decision.”
That won’t come in time, LaGrave said, to save Kadena’s and Kubasaki’s chances of playing in the Hong Kong Tournament, which both schools have attended on and off since 1996.
The petition requests an “immediate” overturn of the travel ban. But Meyer said DODDS-Okinawa could not make such an “immediate” decision without data to support it.
LaGrave said he plans to proceed with the petition and plans for other protest activities including a rally but hopes the ban can be overturned within the system.
“I would like to see DODDS do the right thing and change it on their own,” he said. “That way, everybody wins and there are no hard feelings.
“I don’t know how else to approach it,” LaGrave said. “The more people who send letters and talk to Dr. Vaughn-Wiles, maybe she’ll see that somebody cares.”