Okinawa track meet whets appetite of many for Far East championship
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Like a proud potentate, Charles Burns last weekend oversaw the second installment of his creation, the Dr. Alva W. “Mike” Petty Memorial Track and Field meet at the stadium named for the meet’s namesake.
Nine schools and 130 athletes competed in the two-day event at Petty Stadium. All 14 events yielded new meet records, a testament, Burns said, to the meet’s competitive nature.
Still, as banner streamers were torn down and hurdles put away, Burns said he had mixed feelings as “Petty II” ended.
Burns and others said they’d like to see Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific sponsor a similar meet at the end of the season.
“The kids deserve it,” said Burns, who has coached Kubasaki High’s program since track and field became an Okinawa Activities Council seasonal sport in 1990.
Of the five spring sports at DODDS-Pacific schools, only soccer gets a Far East tournament.
The Far East sports tournament ledger includes girls volleyball, tennis and cross country in the fall and boys and girls basketball and wrestling in the winter.
Missing from the list are baseball and girls softball as well as track, a disparity Burns finds “unfair.”
“The level of competition could definitely increase,” said coach Matt Martinez of Nile C. Kinnick in Japan, who brought seven athletes to the Petty meet, raising $3,500 to make it happen. His five boys finished third in the team standings.
“I wish they would [hold a Far East meet], even if they limited us to eight boys and eight girls, or seven and seven, it would be nice,” Martinez said. “Even if you could take only your top kids, it seems unfair that they don’t let us.”
Knowing there’s a Far East title as stake would provide a “guaranteed incentive” for athletes to perform at their very best, said Kadena High’s Emmanuel Watkins, who won five Petty golds.
“Why not?” he said. “For this meet, you had athletes pushing themselves toward this … goal. [A Far East meet] would help with recognition. It would be great. We’d have all the teams from all the schools in the area.”
Others were less kind in their assessment of what they see as an inequity.
“People are screwed out here in track because there is no Far East,” said Kinnick senior shot putter/discus thrower Jake “Rock” Parker, who posted top-three finishes in his events. “It seems like there are great athletes down here. And to say this is the only time to face them, that’s a shame.”
Such talk could be heard at last year’s inaugural Petty meet, along with calls for a Far East meet. But then as now, DODDS-Pacific officials say the same formidable obstacles stand in the way.
Only six DODDS-Pacific schools have track programs: Kinnick, Zama American and Yokota in Japan, Kubasaki and Kadena on Okinawa and Guam High — the fewest number of DODDS schools in any sport.
Bereft of track programs in Japan are Robert D. Edgren, 360 miles north of Tokyo; and tiny Matthew C. Perry and E.J. King in southwestern Japan.
Earlier this spring, Perry, citing not enough available athletes, folded its softball and baseball teams for the season.
It’s worse in Korea, where Seoul, Osan, Taegu and Pusan American schools don’t have track teams or tracks at their athletic fields or bases. None of Korea’s international schools have track programs, either.
The only regulation 400-meter track on any U.S. base in South Korea is at Camp Casey, about a two-hour drive north of Seoul.
And Osan, Taegu and Pusan have such tiny enrollments, they have trouble filling existing spring teams, let alone a track team, officials said.
Dennis Rozzi, the DODDS-Korea assistant district superintendent who sits on DODDS-Pacific’s Far East Activities Council, said adding track to the Far East tournament ledger “has been discussed” but hasn’t gotten past that stage.
“It’s a facility issue” in Korea, Rozzi said. “Until we have facilities capable of handling the sport, I don’t see how we can.”
Despite those overwhelming obstacles, Burns, Parker and others feel their sport shouldn’t be singled out as a result.
“Even though there are only a few schools competing, they deserve a shot,” Parker said, adding that some deserving athletes such as Watkins, Kubasaki multi-event star Serafina Smith and his own teammates Brenden and Leonard Lynce could lose out on a chance at college scholarships.
“A coach will look at you and say, ‘Well, you’re good in your country, but how well did you match up with the rest of Asia?’” Parker said. “And we don’t have an answer for him.”
“It’s more than unfair,” said Brenden Lynce, unbeaten in 11 of 12 sprint events this year. “Teams have no way to compete with other countries other than here [Petty meet]. You have Far East in some sports and not in others. I’m hoping that this meet can be a milestone toward that.”
“Do you justify having something on this scale because of the number of kids or the benefit of kids?” Burns said. “Would you stop having Model United Nations because there are only three kids per school? You don’t not do it because there are only so many DODDS schools. These kids get something out of it.”