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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Split-squad games are out. A full-fledged varsity schedule is in.

That will be the situation this season on Okinawa, as the Okinawa Activities Council moved to scrap the process used the past three football seasons in favor of one that mirrors other Pacific high school leagues.

For Kubasaki and Kadena, it means double the amount of varsity games they’ve played. It also means hosting and visiting teams in Japan and South Korea — even a stateside school, Utah South Valley, is in the mix, playing at Kadena on Sept. 9 and Kubasaki on Sept. 13.

"I’m excited about the change," Kubasaki coach Fred Bales said. "We’ve had a varsity program for three years. Finally, we feel now that we have a varsity schedule."

Previously, the two largest DODDS-Pacific schools (Kadena’s enrollment about 800, Kubasaki about 600) split their player pool into Kubasaki green and white and Kadena black and gold, which would then play five weeks of split-squad games to determine varsity and JV teams.

The varsity teams would then play a best-of-three series to determine the island’s representative in the Far East Class AA playoffs. That gave Kubasaki and Kadena at best five games per season; Yokota of Japan and Guam High play 10, sometimes more.

"We needed a better schedule, and I think we’re on our way to that," Kadena coach Sergio Mendoza said. "We need the varsity experience. This is a step."

Even before the playoffs, Kubasaki will have played seven games and Kadena as many as six.

The OAC championship series expands from a best-of-three to a best-of-five format, with the first regular-season game Sept. 5 at Kadena. They face each other again Sept. 26 and Oct. 10 at Kubasaki, and Oct. 3 and Oct. 24, if needed, at Kadena.

In addition to Utah South Valley, Kubasaki entertains Yokota on Sept. 20 and travels to Daegu American in Korea on Oct. 18. Kadena has two open dates, Sept. 19 and Oct. 17, and Mendoza is already talking with Robert D. Edgren and American School In Japan about possible games.

The idea, Bales said, is to provide "a season to precede the playoffs, which is what we’re working toward."

Noting that home teams have won each Class AA title since 2005, "all teams need to learn to play better on the road, outside the parameters of the playoffs so it’s not totally new for our kids," Bales said.

The first step toward that was Kubasaki playing at Yokota last Oct. 6. Despite losing 51-21 and suffering several injuries, it "gave us a chance to go on the road, play a quality team, learn to prepare for issues you deal with when you go someplace unfamiliar," Bales said.

The one drawback is that Kubasaki and Kadena have to raise their own funds to pay for off-island trips to Daegu and Yokota, and vice versa. Neither coach would discuss that thorny issue other than Mendoza saying, "I’m hoping we get support from the powers that be later."

While the old split-squad and best-of-three format "gave us a run for our money, we want the chance to see other schools, other players," Kadena junior center Tyler Broome said.

The teams that play Kubasaki and Kadena feel the games benefit them as well.

"It gives us before the end of the season a measuring stick of where we stand in the Pacific against teams we don’t normally see," Yokota coach Tim Pujol said. "I hate bye weeks. It was great to fill it with a quality team like Kubasaki."

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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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