Non-DODDS schools enjoying return to Far East wrestling tourney
Stars and Stripes February 15, 2011
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — They spent six years on the outside looking in while Far East High School Wrestling Tournaments were limited to just DODDS Pacific teams.
Now that they’re back, they say they’re relishing every second of what one coach called an “amazing” experience.
“It’s a huge benefit,” said coach Ian Harlow of St. Mary’s International, one of four non-DODDS teams in the Far East field this week. The others are American School in Japan, Christian Academy Japan and Father Duenas Memorial of Guam.
His wrestlers “get to participate, and have something to look forward to next year,” Harlow said.
Without Far East, “our season would have ended two weeks early and we wouldn’t have had a chance to compete against Korea and Guam teams. These guys have never been a part. Now, we get more wrestling and they get a chance to see it and what they’ll experience next year.”
In September 2004, DODDS Pacific decided to limit Far East tournaments in individual disciplines — tennis, cross country and wrestling— to DODDS schools. At the time, DODDS said it was due to billeting and athletic facility availability concerns.
But last May the Far East Activities Council recommended allowing international schools to participate again, and DODDS Pacific director Diana Ohman approved the recommendation.
“This is an amazing experience,” Christian Academy Japan coach Adam Carlson said. “It’s the crown jewel of the season. The guys have worked hard for it. We’re honored to be here.”
DODDS coaches and officials said the Far East wrestling offers a “true” state-championship feel with the international schools present.
“This is as close to it as we’re going to get,” said Seoul American coach Julian Harden, who’s coached in Far East tournaments with and without international schools in his 18 years as coach.
To Harden, they give the transient DODDS teams a look at how more sedentary international programs operate. They, for the most part, keep the same coaches and the same wrestlers from the seventh grade, plus DODDS wrestlers learn about cultural diversity from athletes who live overseas all their lives.
“We actually get to see that,” Harden said. “And some of the guys who I saw wrestle are now back as coaches.”
One of them is three-time Far East champion Shu Yabui, now a St. Mary’s assistant coach.
“It feels great,” said Yabui, 26, of Tokyo. “It’s a lot more exciting for us and I hope for the other schools.”
The restriction prevented former teammates, such as Mark Striegl, from becoming a four-time Far East champ, Yabui said.
He and others were “disappointed” when the change was announced. “We kind of lost our goal. Our goal became Kanto, which used to be a step toward Far East,” Yabui said of the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools league title.
“I didn’t know how to motivate the kids. Now these guys know and they’ll pass it on to the new guys next year.”
Wrestlers said they appreciate the variety that the international schools bring to the table.
“Sometimes, you face the same person so many times, it gets old,” said E.J. King junior 180-pounder Darnell Vinson. “I like it open like this. There’s more of a variety of opponents whom I can face. More of a challenge. I like that challenge. And they get to experience the same things we experience.”