CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — For the second straight year, the Okinawa Football League has suspended operations due to lack of players, Marine Corps Community Services officials told Stars and Stripes.

And this time, the two-time OFL champion Kadena Dragons are sitting out the season as well.

“Not enough Marines,” MCCS Semper Fit chief Steve Rowland said.

A minimum of two Marine teams of 40 or so experienced players, Rowland said, was needed to sustain the OFL, along with the Dragons and the Ryukyu University Stingray, a Japanese team.

The continued deployment of Marines to the Middle East is mainly to blame, Rowland said.

Kadena coach Will Cupp kept the Dragons going in 2006 despite the OFL shutting down, playing two games in a five-day span last June against U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League opponents.

But without regular OFL competition, Dragons players’ interest waned, Cupp said. Kadena had been slated to play seven games against USFJ-AFL teams this summer, but all those games have been canceled, Cupp and USFJ-AFL commissioner Kyle Rhodus said.

“We had things come up, we didn’t get our advertising out in time, we tried to keep it just Air Force too long” instead of involving players from other services, including OFL Marines, Cupp said.

The Okinawa league started in September 2004 with four Marine teams — Schwab, Foster-Futenma, Kinser and USFJ-AFL remnant Courtney-Hansen, along with Kadena and Ryukyu. That number dwindled to three Marine teams in 2005 when Schwab suspended operations.

Kadena went 17-1 in the two seasons, beating Schwab 44-14 in the 2004 title game and Courtney-Hansen 45-7 in the 2005 championship.

After the 2005 campaign, Kinser, which had trouble fielding teams, announced its intent to fold, and MCCS officials planned the league around two Marine teams, a North and a South team. But not enough players could be found to fill even those uniforms, Rowland said.

“You have commitments, field exercises and deployments — it’s hard to field competitive teams,” he said, adding that the experience level needs to be there along with numbers.

“You don’t want inexperienced players, people who have never played, to try to get out there and possibly get hurt,” he said.

What might happen with the OFL in coming years is “hard to say,” Rowland said.

“We’re going to retain the equipment” in a storage area, Rowland said. “Who knows what’s going to happen?”

Cupp said he plans to cull players from all four services on the island into a newly organized Dragons team to play USFJ-AFL opponents in 2008.

“We’ll be back online with it next year,” he said.

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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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