Nonstop action runs smack into ‘dead period’ wall
April 30, 2009
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — And then there came ... nothing.
After seven weeks of playing as many as six matches in an eight-day period, sports teams in Japan and South Korea — mainly soccer, but other sports, too — now are at the cusp of a "dead period," with Advanced Placement tests slated the first two weeks of May.
No games on AP test days. Limits on travel to play games on weekends. Even practices are shortened in some cases, all designed to help students prepare for AP exams.
And after the "dead period"? They go right back to full speed for the Kanto Invitational track and field meet and baseball tournament May 15-16 and DODDS-Pacific Far East soccer tournaments May 18-22.
"You’re accustomed to playing, playing, playing, then you slam on the brakes, then try to play again, five days, two matches a day at Far East," Nile C. Kinnick girls soccer coach and athletics director Nico Hindie said. "It’s tough."
The "dead period" is the result of DODEA leadership approving a series of recommendations made last summer by DODEA’s AP Task Force. Among them, according to Far East Activities Council chair Don Hobbs:
No games May 4-7 and May 11-13. Games may be played locally May 8-9 and May 14-16. No overnight travel for games in far-flung locales. Practice is permitted, but allowances must be made for students taking tests.
The change created a scheduling nightmare, Hindie and other ADs said. Hindie’s Red Devils played eight matches in 12 days, "and that includes four 12-hour bus rides," he said.
"It’s horrendous. We’ve suffered injuries this year. It’s hard for them to recover when all they’re doing is playing," Hindie said. "On the flip side, I’m glad we have the two weeks off so we can recover. But they should not have happened in the first place."
By the same token, teams will have to shake off rust from the "dead period." "Two weeks is a long wait, especially right before the tournament," Hindie said. "The timing is the worst part of all."
"They have good reasons for limiting it, but it hurt us for scheduling," said Zama American AD Ed Fogell, whose girls soccer team faced a six-match, 10-day stretch. "That gets to be a lot."
Baseball also faces the lack of window problem. Fogell cited a rainout last Saturday, umpires not showing up for another doubleheader and confusion with a team about another. "We can’t reschedule," he said.
Hobbs says he can "understand and appreciate the difficulty in scheduling, especially where schools have to travel a distance." But he says people have to be "imaginative and creative" with scheduling.
"And I don’t see this going away quickly," Hobbs said. The AP task force’s recommendations got the "stamp of approval from DODEA highers-up and they wanted to make sure we follow through on this."
With few exceptions — a Zama at Yokota baseball doubleheader on May 5 and weekend baseball games in Korea May 2 at Daegu American and May 9 at Camp Humphreys — a quick look at the Pacific sports schedule shows all teams and sports falling in line.
The go-stop-go is old hat for Korea soccer teams. Since its inception in 1972, the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference has long mandated: No matches of any kind in May. Besides AP tests, many KAIAC international schools feature the International Baccalaureate program, which keeps an even tighter rein on activity in May.
"We’re trying not to slam on the brake," Daegu coach Ed Thompson said. "We do a lot of things, scrimmage with the boys team, that’s all we’ve got. We have to make the most of what we have."
But it still isn’t easy for coaches. Daegu’s girls, 2007 Class A Tournament champions and runner-up last year, had six matches the first eight days of the KAIAC season, mostly against bigger schools.
"It’s always tough for us. Every year, it’s the same story," Thompson said.
So, what, if anything, can be done to alleviate the problems?
"Personally, I would love to see them [players] be student-athletes and balance it, the challenge of trying to balance your academic workload with your sports obligations," Fogell said. "But it’s not my decision."
"What about teams that don’t have anybody taking AP exams? That doesn’t really seem fair. … I wish there was a solution, but I don’t see one at this point," said Matthew C. Perry boys soccer coach and AD Mark Lange.
He noted that while Kanto Plain teams can at least play one another on weekends, outlying Japan schools such as Perry, E.J. King and Robert D. Edgren "are definitely at a disadvantage."
In the face of that, what advice can a coach who’s been there, done that, give to those about to embark on that journey for the first time?
Motivation isn’t much of a problem, Thompson said. "Far East has always been our ultimate goal," he said. "That’s the focus all year. For me, it’s easy to keep them motivated."
It’s the intensity level, Thompson said, that coaches have to watch. "You’re on a wave and you don’t want to back down off it right before a tournament. Keep the level of intensity up that you’ve had all season. Don’t get complacent. Don’t put things off."