Okinawa district sees progress in high school sports scheduling
November 25, 2004
Memories of the town meeting staged a year ago by parents of Kadena and Kubasaki student-athletes — and the anger those parents vented — are still fresh in Henry Meyer’s mind.
The group complained their children weren’t being afforded the same competitive opportunities as counterparts in Japan and Korea. Particularly galling, they said, was what some called a “travel ban,” which kept teams from leaving the island for in-season competition.
Today, most parents from last year’s group have ceased expressing public dissatisfaction, and Meyer, the spokesman for DODDS-Pacific’s Okinawa district, believes progress has been made in reaching a compromise.
“We listened to people last year,” he said. “We want kids to travel and compete. And we’re doing something about it.”
Japan and Korea each have 10 DODDS and international schools that compete in regular leagues and are within driving distance of one another. But Okinawa has just two DODDS and two international schools, and off-island travel is prohibitively expensive.
Meyer insists “it was never a travel ban. We’re just trying to limit days spent out of school.”
Students already miss up to 20 days playing in the three Far East tournament sports plus regular-season play.
“They gain a lot,” Meyer said. “That’s why we don’t mind missing school for those activities. But … you can’t learn the same thing reading a book that you can by spending time in the classroom.”
To compensate, the Okinawa district hired Misa Akeno of Ginowan to schedule games in several sports, and other cultural activities, with Japanese schools. That helped shift scheduling responsibilities from the coaches to the district.
“Now,” Meyer said, “a coach will always knows how many games he’ll play, and when.”
Working with Japanese school districts and prefectural offices, Akeno helped arrange six volleyball matches for Kadena and nine for Kubasaki this fall, plus the four the two DOD schools played against each other.
Full schedules of 10 to 12 varsity basketball games and at least 10 soccer matches with Japanese teams are being drafted, Meyer said. The district also will help schedule Japanese girls fast-pitch softball teams for Kadena and Kubasaki, which are converting from slow-pitch this year.
“We’re trying to give them competition” meeting Kadena’s and Kubasaki’s level in all sports, Meyer said.
Japanese schools tend to be superior in soccer and volleyball, he said, while American basketball teams tend to physically overwhelm their Japanese counterparts.
That made for some challenging volleyball, said Kubasaki senior middle blocker Erin Foote.
“You’re thinking you have everything covered” and Japanese players “still find six holes to the right and six to the left,” she said.
But without playing Japanese teams, she said, the Dragons might not have finished ninth in the Far East Class AA Tournament.
“The more matches you have,” said Foote’s coach, Terry Chumley, “the better preparation … for Far East.”
Some parents were unhappy about not being able to send Kadena’s and Kubasaki’s basketball teams to the 35th Hong Kong International School holiday basketball tournament last December because team members would have missed two days of school. So Meyer and the Okinawa district lobbied successfully to move the 36th tournament to Thanksgiving weekend.
“They were having trouble attracting teams. Now, both schools are going and not missing school time, which is what we wanted,” Meyer said.
But the district’s most vocal critic, Kadena High parent Lon LaGrave, continues to see a problem. A year ago, the instructor at Camp McTureous’s Bechtel Elementary School founded K24EO, or Kadena and Kubasaki for Equal Opportunity, to battle the “travel ban.”
“Glaring inequities” continue to exist, he said, adding that “limited progress” made by the Okinawa district amounts to “calculated, token attempts at equality.”
LaGrave contends games with Japanese teams should supplement, not replace, competition against other DODDS schools.
LaGrave pointed to Japan and Korea, where student-athletes miss an average of 2½ days of classroom time per season to take part in regular league play co-sponsored by DODDS and international schools.
Meyer believes Kadena and Kubasaki would be wrong to follow the Japan and Korea schools and allow students to miss classes for road trips.
“That’s like saying, ‘They’ve jumped off the bridge; why can’t we?’ … We have a model that works. We’ve had to work hard to make it better … don’t compare us with other areas.”
“We have made giant strides,” Meyer said. “We need to do better. It may not be American competition but it’s as good a competition as they could get.”