Far East H.S. baseball, softball, track and field preview: Pacificwide tournaments give seasons purpose
For years, Pacific baseball, softball, and track and field waited, and hoped. They raised thousands of dollars and traveled on their own to far-flung locales, carrying home invitational tournament hardware that served as “unofficial” Far East titles.
Now that the wait is over, and all have become official DODEA Pacific Far East tournament sports, athletes and coaches say they’re brimming with incentive, as they have the chance to chase a true, honest championship.
Baseball, hosted by Zama American, and softball, by Kadena, are scheduled for May 17-20. Track is May 24-25 at Kubasaki.
“It’s a bigger deal now,” said Kadena softball coach Jesse Costa, whose team could only claim a DODEA Japan tournament title as its biggest prize last year. “Now, we’ll be able to … test how good we really are, put our gloves where our mouths are.”
“Our seniors are really excited; they’ve been motivated since the first day,” added Randy Toor, coach of Kubasaki baseball, which took third in last May’s Kanto Plain Invitational and second in Kubasaki’s own Spring Fling.
Then there’s Nile C. Kinnick track and field, which, behind triple gold-medalist Donavan Brown, came closest to claiming “unofficial” Far East bragging rights last May, when the Red Devils finished second in the Kanto Invitational meet.
“There’s going to be a lot of starry-eyed athletes who just want to go there and enjoy the moment,” Kinnick coach Al Garrido said.
In many respects, the Far East tournaments are a work in progress, DODEA Pacific officials said, with organizers expected to focus one eye on running their events smoothly, the other on what are expected to be thick after-action reports.
The tournaments will be “smaller in scale” than what might come in the future, DODEA Pacific spokesman Charly Hoff said.
Discussions will be held in the coming months, during the events and the next Far East Activities Council meeting later this month over future tournament formatting, officials said.
To be debated are whether to split tournaments by enrollment or let all schools play as one group, whether international schools or private entities with DODEA high school students such as Seoul Track Club can be invited to future meets.
Some schools and even whole school districts don’t sponsor some sports. Korea’s three DODEA high schools, for example, don’t sponsor track; no Korea bases with high schools have a regulation track.
Matthew C. Perry and E.J. King play baseball in the fall, and Perry has no softball program. Guam High is an invited guest in the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam, which schedules baseball and softball out of season due to field and officials availability.
Those issues could be FEAC agenda items as well, Hoff said.
That the new events are there at all, officials said, is the cost savings, more than 51 percent, realized by DODEA Pacific opting to buy tickets to fly students to Far East activities through local vendors at discount rates instead of on-base government vendors at higher prices.
The new events keep DODEA Pacific in line with what Europe does, and represents a reversal from what many school districts in the States are doing, cutting sports and other activities to save money, Hoff said.
That baseball, softball and track were added so quickly in the first year of new DODEA Pacific director Diana Ohman’s administration came as a surprise to many; initial thoughts were they’d be added for 2010-11.
“I’m so happy we have Far East this year. We heard it would be next year, so we were kind of bummed,” said Kubasaki softball right-hander Leena Seamans, a senior.
“It’s like a dream come true for me,” Kadena senior catcher Karol Whitfield said.
One result is the numbers of athletes have increased across the board. For example, Kadena track had 40 athletes last year; coach Sergio Mendoza says that’s increased to 65 this year.
“It’s a great motivator to say you’re a state champion,” Mendoza said.
Garrido and longtime Kubasaki track coach Charles Burns were two of the many who led the fight to get those sports added to the FEAC calendar.
“I thought it was falling on deaf ears, but we didn’t want to stop trying,” Garrido said.
“It was worth the effort,” Burns said. “If I had it to do all over again, I’d fight it as long as I could. The best part is, it’s done.”