Seth Ennis of Kadena, bottom, grabs a hold of Mark Meade of Yokota during last month’s Far East tournament. The double-elimination format was controversial, but FEAC chair Don Hobbs said it would continue.

Seth Ennis of Kadena, bottom, grabs a hold of Mark Meade of Yokota during last month’s Far East tournament. The double-elimination format was controversial, but FEAC chair Don Hobbs said it would continue. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

TORII STATION, Okinawa — Even before the at-times-heated debate last month over the change in Far East High School Wrestling Tournament format, Don Hobbs felt change was needed in the way DODDS-Pacific conducts Far East tournament business.

Starting in September, the Far East Activities Council chairman said, he plans to take a stronger hand in overseeing the way tournaments are conducted, from formatting to maximizing participation for all teams.

“I will take a more hands-on approach. There will be a lot more involvement on my part. … I will take much more of a hand in final approval,” Hobbs said in a wide-ranging interview Friday with Stripes.

He plans to request that event directors present tournament formats to him for his review no later than 30 days prior to their start, and that one of the goals is maximizing participation, which always has been a top consideration.

“We also want all teams to participate until at least the next-to-last day” with more than half still playing on the final day, Hobbs said.

He also plans to push for standardization or, at least, format guidelines for all Far East athletics events at the next FEAC meeting, scheduled here for March 17-18.

Among the tournaments that recently have been most prone to change was tennis. Hobbs would like to standardize the format, retaining the singles, doubles and mixed doubles competitions, with athletes competing in two of the three, that was used last November. The two years before that, a Davis Cup-style format — and, initially, no singles tournament — drew complaints.

Another change, though not in format, is in cross country, where there will be Class AA and Class A team winners instead of one overall champ.

Smaller schools tend to not bring five runners, which have been required to score team points. In November’s Far East meet, all four Class A schools were listed as “incomplete teams” in the final event standings.

While agreeing in principle with standardization, “you need to leave some flexibility up to the tournament director. Each situation is going to be different with respect to gymnasiums and facilities,” Seoul American athletic director Don Hedgpath said.

Hobbs acknowledges that, and said he will listen to director’s concerns.

FEAC, which formed in 1997, has long delegated the responsibility for formatting tournaments to host schools. Hobbs took his current post in 2003, after coaching and running tournaments at Kubasaki since 1983.

There haven’t been many problems with that “up until recently,” Hobbs said, citing the outrage some coaches expressed with last month’s wrestling tournament. “I plan to get involved and ensure that things are done in what I sense are the correct way.”

Some wrestling coaches criticized the decision to go with a double-elimination format, and that they were notified just two weeks beforehand.

While acknowledging the new wrestling format was the “biggest change” he’s seen in his five years on the job, Hobbs said he plans to retain the format for future Far Easts.

“I like the format,” he said, adding that wrestlebacks are used by some stateside federations in one form or another. “We had people say it did work. It made for an exciting Friday of finals.”

Some coaches pointed to the number of bouts in four days, 508, compared with the previous maximum of 381. Though there were only two major injuries, “it could have been more,” Yokota coach Brian Kitts said.

A fourth day was added to the tournament, Hobbs said, to prevent a problem that had cropped up in previous years: wrestlers staying in the gym until as late as 9 p.m., too tired to study and with nowhere to eat after food courts closed.

“We were able to get out of the gym at a decent hour and still wrestle a lot,” Hobbs said. Each day of wrestling ended around 4:30 p.m.

Seoul American’s Julian Harden, among others, said, the wrestleback format “skewed” the final team results and favored eventual champion Kadena.

“They did better because of the wrestlebacks,” Harden said. “Their experience helped them. It hurt the smaller schools, especially.”

Kadena beat Kubasaki 68-48 in the team standings. Kitts recalculated the standings by eliminating the double-elimination wrestlebacks; Kadena would have edged Edgren 62-59.

“We gave it a shot, and we’re still against it,” Kitts said, adding that when he asked coaches, nine of 11 voiced opposition to it.

Hobbs said he didn’t get that much negative feedback, and Kadena coach Steve Schrock said format didn’t matter to him or his Panthers.

“Conditioning plays the most important part. If they’re in good enough shape, they can handle it. Tell us where, when and the mat number. A black-and-gold singlet will be there to wrestle,” he said.

In regards to other sports, Hobbs said Class A tournaments for volleyball, basketball and soccer likely will retain their traditional double-elimination formats, since they have fewer teams. Class AA tournaments will remain single-elimination.

“We don’t want them to turn into a survival of the fittest,” Hobbs said, recalling how Kubasaki’s boys basketball team played five games in 36 hours in the last double-elimination Class AA tournament.

Hedgpath, a former FEAC member, agreed.

“Double-elimination is the way to go” for smaller tournaments, he said. “In larger tournaments, single-elimination with consolation gives people plenty of games.”

In Far East cross country meets, Class AA schools with enrollment of 360 or more may bring five boys and five girls, Hobbs said. Top four finishers score team points, while the fifth “pushes.” Class A schools of 359 and lower will have three runners score, a fourth “pushing” and the fifth thrown out.

“That will be great for small schools,” E.J. King coach Tom Heitstuman said. “It levels the playing field for them.”

Conversely, the 12 coaches in last November’s Far East tennis tournament, also at Kadena, voted unanimously against separation. Class A schools finished third, fifth, sixth and 12th in the team title chase.

“There wasn’t the need that there is in cross country and wrestling,” Daegu American coach Ed Thompson said. “Tennis is unique. A good player can surface anywhere. A small team can compete with a big team with just four players in some cases.”

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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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