Kadena still waiting for USFJ-AFL rivals to make Okinawa trek
July 22, 2006
Kadena is still waiting for its first home game against a U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League foe
The two-time Okinawa Football League champ had a second team postpone a visit to Okinawa when Yokota said Wednesday that it wasn’t going to make Saturday’s scheduled contest.
“We’re sorry for the change of plans but we had a lot of duty commitments that intervened,” Warriors assistant coach Christopher Bell said.
That comes on the heels of the Atsugi Falcons’ two aborted attempts to travel to Okinawa. They were to visit the Dragons on July 8 but Typhoon Ewiniar intervened. Then transportation problems kept them from traveling for a makeup date last Saturday, said coach Daniel Estrada.
And, already, defending USFJ-AFL champion Misawa indicated transportation problems could block a scheduled July 29 clash at Kadena — a game being billed as an “unofficial” Far East military championship between the defending OFL and USFJ-AFL champions.
The Dragons had been USFJ-AFL members for the league’s first four problem-fraught seasons, when weather, duty and transportation forced 30 games be canceled or postponed, including the 2001 and 2003 league title games.
The OFL formed in the fall of 2004. Kadena joined that league and won its first two titles. And with just four teams in mainland Japan and transportation to Okinawa no longer an issue, just two USFJ-AFL games were canceled or postponed in 2004 and 2005.
When Kadena expressed interest in reviving its USFJ-AFL rivalries this season, League Commissioner Kyle Rhodus granted it six non-league games, two away and four at home. The Dragons beat Yokota and Atsugi by a combined 80-0 on the road in late June but have yet to host any games.
“All we want is for some team to step up, come down here and play us,” said Dragons captain Jermaine Baker, who added, “if we had won those games in the mainland by less than 10 points, all these teams would be down here to redeem themselves or risk their perfect seasons. But since we went up there and took care of business on their turf, why would any of those teams travel down here to play us, knowing there’s no light at the end of the tunnel?”
Rhodus was on leave in the States and unavailable for comment. But USFJ-AFL coaches disputed Baker’s reasoning.
“What’s going on around the world is affecting us,” Misawa coach Dwight Abel said.
“We’re military. We’re here to protect and defend. Football comes second.”
Robert Cole the Yokosuka Seahawks coach said he understands the Kadena coach’s frustration. The Seahawks are scheduled at Kadena on Aug. 12, two weeks before the USFJ-AFL playoff start.
“Ask (if) any coach … would want to play an exhibition game two weeks before the playoffs start,” he said.
“But we made a commitment. We’re going down there. … I don’t think anybody is scared to play anybody. We want to play.”
Said Estrada, whose Falcons lost to the Dragons 41-0 on June 28 at Atsugi: “It’s a logical conclusion” to assume USFJ-AFL teams might be reluctant to play Kadena.
“But we’ve taken several whippings over the last couple of years. Did we ever forfeit any games we didn’t want to play? No. … We’ve just been unlucky in that we’ve not been able to procure transportation.”
Misawa’s Abel said he’s currently fighting to secure return transportation from Okinawa on July 29 or 30, but has been guaranteed only a return flight on July 31, a Monday. That’s nominally a duty day, Abel said, when units and section supervisors are reluctant to release players.
“A lot of guys on the team are firefighters and security forces,” Abel said. “The bosses are the driving factor. All the guys want to play. If we can get a flight back Sunday, I’ll have 80 percent of my team. But getting them back on Monday makes a huge difference. If we’re only able to swing 12 or 15 guys, I wouldn’t be able to compete. I want to give a good showing.”
Even though the Seahawks have a flight set for Aug. 12 to Okinawa and a return on Aug. 13, “they can get changed at any time,” Cole said. “Last year, we got bumped off our flight to Misawa at the last minute. There’s absolutely nothing you can do about that.”