Bonfires, pep rallies, backwards days, building parade floats … homecoming and its accoutrements are as much a part of October for high school football teams as Jack-o-Lanterns are on Halloween.

For football teams and coaches, homecoming week can be equal parts pleasure and pain:

 Pleasure with all the pomp and pageantry, perhaps being named to the Homecoming court or even crowned king.

 Pain with players missing practice due to class responsibility, leaving teams to have to cobble gameplans together with players coming and going left and right.

“It’s a mixed blessing,” said Steven Merrell, in his fourth year coaching Zama American. “You don’t want the kids to lose focus on why we’re here. But it is a part of the high school experience.”

“From the football aspect, it’s kind of a nightmare,” second-year Guam High coach Billy Henry said. “The players you lose more than likely will be seniors or key players.”

Thus, it becomes difficult for coaches and teams to prepare for an opponent, particularly one that has fared well both in the regular season and Far East playoffs.

That’s what faces coach Fred Bales and Kubasaki, who host four-time Okinawa Activities Council and two-time Division I champion Kadena at 7 p.m. Friday; Kadena pounded the Dragons 57-6 at last year’s Kubasaki homecoming.

Bales said his Dragons are approaching Friday’s tilt “like any other game. We prepare as hard as we can, having the kids as ready to play as they can be and then go play the game.”

Unlike many stateside schools which have the luxury of scheduling a “cupcake” team for homecoming, for Kubasaki, it’s Kadena or nothing.

“You can’t be the best until you beat the best,” Bales said. “They’re deserving. And until somebody beats them, they’ll stay champions. They’re well coaches, they have good players. I like to think we do, too. It should be a dandy of a game.”

Kadena (4-0), with its high-octane run game powered by Shariff Coleman and Thomas McDonald, goes up against the Dragons (3-0), who are off to their best start in Bales’ tenure as coach behind a balanced offense triggered by running back Deon Lewis and quarterback Cristian Rivera.

Elsewhere, in non-Homecoming matchups, Yokota can take a huge stride toward recapturing the DODDS Japan and Kanto Plain titles with a win Friday at Zama American.

Seoul American will try to breach the win column Friday at defending DODDS Korea champion Daegu American. Fresh off its first win of the season, Nile C. Kinnick visits winless Robert D. Edgren in the renewal of the Toku Horse rivalry.

And Henry’s Panthers, who enjoyed a happy homecoming last week by blanking Southern 45-0, can wrap up the school’s first Interscholastic Football League title by beating John F. Kennedy on Saturday.

Homecoming game days also feature a parade, either before the game or at halftime, with the homecoming court usually announced at halftime.

That can be a “battle,” Daegu coach Ken Walter said. “The homecoming committee usually wants a longer halftime, the kids are sitting around longer. If you’re playing a good game, you might lose momentum.”

Bales counters that there will always be distractions. “With a school this size, there are other student activities, we have meetings after school, etc.,” Bales said. “You control what you can control and forget the rest.”

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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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