Watching canopies being put in place and start and finish lines marked around the Mike Petty Stadium track, Charles Burns had the look of a proud potentate ready to turn the key on the new Moose Lodge.

“Or a proud parent getting ready to watch his kid graduate from college,” Burns said Saturday, two days before the start of the first Far East High School Track & Field Meet on his home Kubasaki High School track.

You see, he’s been coaching track at Kubasaki for 20 years. Most of that time he spent lobbying DODEA Pacific to make it a Far East sport before he took matters into his own hands in 2003, founding the next best thing, the Mike Petty Memorial Meet.

“It’s been a long-time wait, but it’s worth the wait. We got what we wanted,” Burns said. “It’s a great feeling. It’s something to say you’re a Far East champion. The kids will have a different motivation. They’ve arrived at the equivalent of state championship.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Kadena coach Sergio Mendoza said. “It’s necessary to … attract our top athletes to the sport. I’m glad it’s here. It’s been a long wait. I’ve a lot of gratitude for those who made it happen.”

Eight schools, four from Japan, two from Okinawa and one each from Korea and Guam, will suit up for the two-day Far East meet.

It will differ somewhat from the Petty and Kanto Invitational meets, in that Far East is for only DODEA schools, and some of the events will be different.

There won’t be a sprint medley, mile or two-mile run as in the Petty, and the 400-meter hurdles run at the Kanto will be shortened to 300. And, of course, there won’t be a throwers relay, run at the Petty as an exhibition event.

“We don’t want any car wrecks,” Burns said jokingly.

As to who the “teams to beat” might be, it would be easy to note Kanto champion Nile C. Kinnick of Japan and Petty boys and girls champions Kadena and Kubasaki as the favorites, except for one thing:

“We’ve yet to have a meet for teams that are fully represented,” Mendoza said, noting that athletes had to go out of pocket to Petty and Kanto. “We’ve not had a meet where everybody could show their depth.”

One thing that teams are already preparing for is Okinawa heat — forecasts call for rain on Monday and partly cloudy on Tuesday with temperatures in the mid-80s.

“We’re prepared for anything. Our kids have been hydrating for a week,” Kinnick coach Al Garrido said. “If you look at our numbers, we’re peaking. Coaching-wise, we’ve done everything we could for our players. It’s all said and done. It’s time to just go out and perform.”

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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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