CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Citing safety reasons, Kadena High canceled two Okinawa High School Athletic Association football games against the Ryukyu University Stingray, athletics director Tony Harris said Wednesday.

“Every time they go out there, there’s multiple injuries,” said Harris, also Kadena’s assistant principal. The majority of Stingray players are either approaching or over age 30, he said, adding that the age difference means “they’re no longer a university team. They’re a club team. So, for safety reasons, we canceled the games.”

Ryukyu was to play the Kadena Islanders (2-0), with whom it shared first place, on Saturday at Camp Foster’s Mike Petty Stadium. The Kadena Buccaneers were to face the Stingray Oct. 11.

The Stingray were added to the league in 1995, playing one game against the four American prep teams, including the Kubasaki Samurai and Shogun.

Until this season, the Stingray were 3-28 and had been outscored 846-147 by their American foes. But this season, the Stingray beat the Shogun and Samurai by a combined 70-13.

Ryukyu is not eligible for the league’s postseason playoffs, which determine its representative in the Rising Sun Bowl All-Japan championship.

Any matches the team played against Kadena or Kubasaki were considered “additional games,” Harris said.

Still, coaches at Kadena and Kubasaki criticized Harris’ decision.

“I’m not in favor of it. I don’t agree with it. I’d rather line up and play them,” said Bucs coach Brian Wetherington. “I understand the viewpoint, that it’s boys against men, but this has been going on for years.”

Bucs assistant Glen Ballard, who worked with the Samurai the past three seasons, was equally critical.

“They’re the best tuneup team we can play on this island,” Ballard said. “This is ridiculous. I love playing against these guys.”

“It stinks,” added 13-year Shogun coach Charles Burns, who helped oversee the addition of the Stingray to the league.

“They gave us an additional team, and our kids got exposed to a slightly different brand of football,” Burns said. “It was worthwhile” despite the age of the Stingray’s players.

He said Kadena should at least let the Stingray finish their season schedule.

Harris cited a knee injury suffered by one of Burns’ players, quarterback Orlando Bell, in Ryukyu’s 26-13 victory Sept. 22, as a reason to call off the games.

“And I know of at least three other kids” with problems as a result of games against Ryukyu, Harris said.

Stingray team official Toshiyuki Shigaki, who works at Schilling Recreation Center on Kadena Air Base, expressed distress over Harris’ decision.

“We practice for a whole year to prepare for these four games,” said Shigaki, the Stingray’s liaison with OHSAA teams. “I’m sure the team will be deeply depressed.”

Whjether Kubasaki’s teams will continue to play Ryukyu in the future is “something we need to sit down and decide after the season,” Burns 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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