CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The longtime face of Marine Corps Community Services Okinawa athletics and fitness has left the island.

Steve Rowland, a 62-year-old Texan who ran MCCS Semper Fit for the past 10 years, retired from his post Monday and flew to his new home, San Antonio, leaving behind what he calls some "great memories."

"Making sure that all servicemembers, dependents, civilians and youth are provided and have the opportunity to participate in sports," Rowland said of his primary mission as Semper Fit chief.

He points to the mushrooming of new facilities such as the mega-gymnasiums at Camps Hansen and Kinser and Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, a new outdoor complex at Camp Hansen and a host of programs such as the Okinawa Dolphins swim team, each of which came online after Rowland took the Semper Fit post in 1996.

"Take a look at the facilities and programs today and compare them to 13 years ago," he said.

But Rowland was far more than a facilities architect and athletics administrator during his years on Okinawa, which began in 1991 after retiring as a master sergeant following 22 years in the Army.

He served as Amateur Softball Association’s Pacific metro commissioner for eight years and refereed high school football for 11 years as an Okinawa Athletic Officials Association member

He cut his teeth on umpiring in 1980 in Korea, where he was spotted by Bennie Jackson, who since that year has served as Rowland’s counterpart at Area II Sports Support Activity on Yongsan Garrison.

"He’ll be missed," Jackson said of Rowland, adding that when he assumed the Semper Fit chair in 1996, Rowland "really took control of that MWR."

Rowland worked briefly at Torii Station’s fitness center and then moved to the Camp Foster Field House in 1992 before his promotion to Semper Fit chief.

He and the Okinawa Athletic Officials Association helped create the Martin Luther King Invitational Basketball Tournament, starting in 1992. Camp Foster in 1996 also began hosting the Firecracker Shootout softball tournament under Rowland’s guidance; the first fielded 48 teams, still a record for a Pacific tournament.

During that span, Rowland also found time to help coach Pacific Force, the now-defunct Far East softball power that won 39 Grand Slam tournament titles between 1989 and 2004 — including 10 straight from 1997-99, a run that included an historic calendar Grand Slam sweep in 1998.

"Grand Slam," Rowland said. "There were so many teams out there at the time wanting to do that. We just put it all together."

Perhaps a bigger point of pride, Rowland said, was Pacific Force placing seven of its members on the 1999 All-Armed Forces team — outfielders Byron Randolph, Gary Chaney, Lonnie Dillard and Tommy Carlo, infielders Armando Delsi and Stu Saylor and assistant coach Nathan Hales.

"Never forget those boys," he said.

Rowland also helped put the Okinawa Football League on the map in 2004, but it lasted just two seasons, victim of budget cuts and troop deployments in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom. Even the MLK and Firecracker went by the boards for three years until 2008.

"We had a mission to do," Rowland said. "Funding wasn’t as strong as before. We couldn’t sponsor a lot of things, cutting out events because of people deployed. For three years, no MLK, no Firecracker. When we got those back, I was a happy camper."

Rowland and his wife Song have been married for 35 years. They have one son, Willie, a 1996 Kadena High School graduate, and two grandchildren.

"The people in general," Rowland said he’ll miss most of his time in the Pacific.

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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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