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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Holiday invitational basketball tournaments are as common as coffee beans in the United States.

The Pacific’s latest attempt at such an event, last week’s four-team, three-day New Year’s Classic at Yokota High School in Japan, drew raves from players, coaches, fans, even school and DODDS-Japan administrators.

Host Yokota, Kadena of Okinawa, St. Mary’s International of Tokyo and Seoul American played to crowds of 200 to 300 all weekend at Capps Gym. Concession stands sold everything from hot dogs to chili rice to T-shirts. Player introductions in the title game were accompanied by The Who’s “Eminence Front,” the same song the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks use for their introductions.

“Absolutely fantastic,” said Kadena coach Robert Bliss.

But in the the tournament’s wake comes the $64,000 question: Will it continue and expand — or go away, as have the Thanksgiving Turkey Shootout and the Asia Christmas Classic, two past attempts at Pacific holiday tournaments?

“It’s a nice event for the kids and the crowd,” said Yokota High principal Richard Schlueter. “But the way budgets are right now, it’s hard to say.”

The tournament, Yokota coach Paul Ettl’s brainchild, was an effort to give teams games during the holiday break. Ettl said he also wanted to mirror tournaments in the States.

“Part of our mission in DODDS,” Ettl said, is “to give the kids as much of the stateside experience as we can.”

The New Year’s Classic had just four teams, he said, because “in the first year, we wanted to keep it simple, just get it off the ground.”

It came off on a shoestring. DODDS-Japan funding was used only to pay referees, provide bus transportation to and from the airport and lend the teams vans to get around Yokota. Seoul American and Kadena raised up to $600 a person for flights and three nights’ stay at Yokota’s temporary living facility.

The tournament’s timing, Ettl said, was perfect — just before the end of the holiday break, so no school was missed.

But he and DODDS administrators said the event’s future will depend on the timing of the holiday period, whether teams will continue to want to finance their trips to Yokota and whether the tournament can continue to get support and keep costs to a minimum.

Another factor is a coach’s willingness to give up part of his holiday to spend time with his players instead of family, said Seoul American’s Steve Boyd:

“Imagine you’re a coach with a young family. That’s hard to do.”

One vote for expansion came from an interested party on the sideline: Coach Tom Allensworth and his unbeaten Zama American Trojans (14-0) watched all 10 tournament games from the Capps Gym stands — obviously wanting to be more than just spectators.

“We wished we were invited,” said Zama senior guard Wilberto Badillo, adding he thought the Trojans would be competitive with “any one of those teams.”

Allensworth said he’s all for beefing up the field to include both Class AA and Class A teams, similar to the Turkey Shootout.

“That was a good tournament.”

Steve Boyd, like Allensworth and St. Mary’s Fred Sava, was a longtime guest at the Turkey Shootout. He said he hopes the New Year’s Classic will stay alive and serve to attract potential students to Seoul.

“Parents go online to the school’s Web site and see that opportunities of a lifetime are offered, they’re more likely to want to … bring their kids to Seoul American,” Boyd said.

Said Bliss: “This year, it all fell into place. I hope it continues.”

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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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