KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – A fifth straight sweep of the Okinawa Activities Council season series with Kubasaki came with something the Kadena Panthers would rather not have had – a 22-day layoff between their Oct. 8 homecoming win over Kubasaki and their next game Oct. 30 with Guam High.

Kubasaki doesn’t have it much better. Originally scheduled to play Kadena for a third time on Friday, that game was removed from the schedule, giving the Dragons 14 days off before their next game, a first-time visit to Singapore to play the Falcons All-Star team.

Just how do coaches Sergio Mendoza and Fred Bales go about the business of keeping their players honed to a sharp edge despite that time off?

“The challenge is to keep them focused, but you can also turn it into a positive,” Kadena offensive coordinator Steve Schrock said.

That can mean the players getting schoolwork done, and letting those dings and nagging things that bother athletes from week to week heal.

Still, there’s the drudgery of practicing day to day, knowing the next time they buckle their chinstraps and play isn’t for a while yet.

“The challenge is to stay on top of your game, stay in shape, (repeat) plays and fight the boredom of the practice schedule,” Schrock said.

“The intensity level drops off a bit. It’s up to the coaches to devise ways to keep the intensity level high,” Bales said.

One way is to try to set intermediate goals for that particular practice week, “instead of projecting out two to three weeks, what might or might not lay ahead,” Bales said.

Defending champion Kadena (6-0) and 2005 champion Kubasaki (4-2) have each qualified for the Far East Division I playoffs; Kadena faces Seoul American and Kubasaki takes on Yokota in the Nov. 6 semifinals at Kubasaki’s Mike Petty Stadium. The title game is Nov. 12.

Among teams playing this weekend, Guam High stands at the cusp of a school first; the Panthers host George Washington for the Interscholastic Football League title at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Singapore sends its All-Stars to Seoul American for a 6 p.m. Saturday contest. Unbeaten Yokota (7-0) travels to American School In Japan (4-2), while Zama American (3-4) visits Nile C. Kinnick in the Kanto Plain and DODDS Japan’s penultimate weekend of play.

Such layoffs are actually old hat for the Dragons and Panthers. Before in-season games against Korea teams were added this year, both teams played only against each other and against whomever they could convince to raise funds to travel to Okinawa and vice versa.

“So, I think we have a good handle on it.” Schrock said.

At Guam High, where long layoffs are hardly a bother, coach Billy Henry reports a subdued air among his players as they prepare for the Geckos, whom the Panthers beat 32-0 in the regular season.

“Strangely calm,” Henry said, adding his players were still in celebration mode on Monday after their 27-8 semifinal Saturday win over Father Duenas Memorial, but that ceased on Tuesday.

Henry says he and his players are “approaching this game as we have all others,” he said. “My game plan isn’t going to change. We definitely start at 0-0. What’s happened in the past is what’s in the past.”

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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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