Jim Burgeson recalls how when he first got to Robert D. Edgren High School three years ago, the Eagles sports teams languished at or near the bottom of the heap, and how athletes suffered ridicule from other students for being part of such a less-than-banner program.

How times have changed, Edgren’s athletic director says, particularly in the wake of the Eagles’ capturing their first Far East Class A football championship. It put the cap on what Burgeson referred to as a “banner year” for the small school at Misawa Air Base in northeastern Japan.

“Finally, the whole culture of the place is changing,” said Burgeson, who transferred from Florida to Edgren for the 2003-04 school year.

“When I got here, there was always talent, but why be a part of something in which people are going to take shots at you? Kids were making fun of the athletes. We were comfortable being everybody’s whipping boy for years. But they came to the realization that they can play, and it’s spreading across the board.”

Edgren has had its share of teams reaching Far East championship games in the past, but never before had so many Eagles teams enjoyed so much success in one school year.

Paced by a stingy defense and tournament MVP Alyssa Rodrigues, the Eagles’ girls soccer went 9-7-5, the best season in school history, and made it to the Class A soccer final, losing in a shootout to Osan American.Likewise, the boys soccer team enjoyed its school-best class a finish, third place, and used a high-scoring offense to fashion a 13-4-4 mark, also tops in school history.Boys basketball, with senior scoring machine Shamar Riddick leading the way, powered to a third-place Class A tournament finish, going 15-13 for the season.Tennis saw its share of success, with John Zindash and Thomas Harwell reaching the boys doubles final.But the crowning achievement came Nov. 4 at Eagles Field, where dangerous all-purpose back Zach Latimore, workmanlike fullback David Leh, quarterback Josh Ray and an offensive line led by Niels Johnson helped the Eagles dethrone defending Class A football champion Osan American 23-0.

That came before 1,000-plus fans, as well as the school’s band, a taiko drum group, even airmen assigned to the base with no attachment to the school. One and all braved the early November chill to come “out there and cheer them on and watch them succeed,” Burgeson said. “It’s nice.”

Much of the credit for the culture change, Burgeson said, goes to longtime coaches such as Sarah Richardson (volleyball, basketball) and Andre Thibert (basketball, cross country) “who’ve been here doing it for a while.”

Burgeson arrived to take the helm of a rebuilding football team. Joining him on the coaching staff was Chris Waite, whom Burgeson called “a young, dynamic guy.” Waite, who took over as head coach this season and led the Eagles to a 4-4 record, including three victories in their last four games and the Class A title. The best news may be that two of the key components of the championship team — Ray and Latimore — are back next year.

“It’s awesome to see,” Burgeson said of the turnaround. “I don’t want it to go away.”

While the Edgren programs enjoyed the finest year in school history, other athletes, teams and schools found reason to cherish other top moments from 2006:

Taegu triumphs, tragedy

Taegu American, with its senior core of Lynnette Grant, Kelli Cox and Tank Hancock, grabbed the first Class A girls basketball and the first department of DODDS-Korea girls softball titles in school history. Sadly, Grant was killed in a car crash in Alabama in September.

Kinnick’s super sophs

The Nile C. Kinnick Red Devils claimed their first Far East cross country individual gold medal on the legs of sophomore Nadine Mulvany. The Red Devils tennis team also achieved a school first when Garren Dial, also a sophomore, won Far East singles gold.

Kubasaki’s Coon ends drought

Matt Coon of Kubasaki won that school’s first cross country gold since 1988.

Streaking Yokota

Yokota boys basketball ran off a string of 30 straight victories to close the season, and behind tournament MVP Cameron Cooper, won its first Class AA title since 1976.

A tennis first

Yokota tennis also enjoyed its first shining moment — doubles team Ken Brophy and Kenta Takahashi brought home the school’s first gold medal.

Small helps Seoul American take big step on gridiron

Another school that relished its first Far East football championship was Seoul American. Joe McLean’s touchdown and fumble recovery in overtime boosted the Falcons past Kadena 12-6. Falcons senior David Smalls set a Pacific single-game record for rushing yards with 421 in the Falcons’ 58-32 win over Osan on Oct. 4.

Kadena takes wrestling titles

Kadena's wrestling program finally rose to the top, with Jake Bloom and Austin Copeland capturing gold medals and four others taking silver as the Panthers won its school-first Far East tournament titles, beating Okinawa island-rival Kubasaki for the dual-meet crown and outdistancing host Nile C. Kinnick 70-58 for the individual freestyle title.

Joining the new teams and faces on the victory stand were a number of athletes and squads for whom winning has become old hat:

Kadena’s six-pack

Kadena’s boys soccer team, after a year’s absence, returned to the victory stand may 19, as Anthony Soroka scored twice and the Panthers blanked Kubasaki 3-0 for the team’s third Class AA title in four years and fourth overall. Kadena’s girls enjoyed similar success, behind record-setting goal-scoring sisters Jennifer Abel (70 for season, 109 for career) and Dianne Abel (61 for season, 178 for career), as the Panthers rocked American School in Japan 8-1 for their third straight title.

Panthers regain edge

After a year’s absence, the Panthers edged out Kinnick and Kubasaki for the far east cross-country title, Kadena’s third such title in five years and fourth in school history.

Seoul American doubles up

Doubles pair Song Ho Downes and Chris Paek helped boost Seoul American to a repeat Far East tennis team title. Center Margaret Nurse and Seoul American’s girls basketball team also repeated its Class AA tournament championship.

Yokota’s ‘other’ streak

Yokota’s boys basketball team was not the only program at the school with a winning streak of at least 30 games. The football team ran its regular-season winning streak to 39, matching its own pacific record, and also extended its school record of DODDS-Japan and Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools titles to eight.

Osan makes it four of five

Sasha Gluzinski, Gina Bosworth, Jessica Richert and Osan’s girls soccer team kept up their run of success, winning the class a tournament title for the fourth time in five years.

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