DODEA-Pacific cancels spring competition between schools
By DAVE ORNAUER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 15, 2020
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For the second straight school year, DODEA-Pacific’s spring sports season will see no competition between schools due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
Any hope for spring football has also been extinguished.
DODEA-Pacific officials announced Tuesday that spring sports season – track and field, baseball, soccer and softball – will be limited to in-school practice only due to DODEA’s health-protection guidelines. The spring season is scheduled for Jan. 19 to May 1, 2021.
“The athletics season will continue to look different in the spring, with mitigation measures in place for the safety of our student-athletes and coaches,” DODEA-Pacific athletics coordinator Tom McKinney said in a statement released Tuesday.
Questions about whether the situation might change once a vaccine does become available were not immediately answered. Schools can also petition to have individual sports re-instated while presenting detailed plan for conducting it safely.
In the same statement, DODEA-Pacific said football cannot be offered in the spring “due to its high-contact nature; football is a high-risk sport for transmitting COVID-19.” The statement cited the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Currently, U.S. bases in Japan, Okinawa, Korea and Guam fall under Health Protection Condition B, which under DODEA guidelines means athletes and teams are limited to individual workouts and conditioning.
Contact is prohibited; even passing of a ball between teammates is not permitted.
McKinney said that while sports remain “an important part of the high school experience,” the pandemic is a reality that prevents sports from being conducted normally.
“You just have to be creative about it when you do your practices, and hope something opens up when there’s a window of opportunity,” he said.
The decision to limit spring sports to in-school workouts was met with disappointment.
“I’m sick about it,” longtime Kubasaki assistant baseball coach Kent Grubbs said.
Matt Whipple, who has coached Yokota girls soccer since 2004, said he was “extremely disappointed” by the decision, “especially for the students. I don’t think it’s what’s best for our student-athletes.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic surfaced last winter, the DODEA-Pacific sports picture has completely changed.
Far East basketball and cheerleading were canceled after one day Feb. 20. In-school instruction was halted in Korea on Feb. 24 and in Japan on March 27. Okinawa saw one day of spring-sports competition, March 25, before schools there transitioned to remote learning.
DODEA-Pacific’s fall sports offerings were limited to tennis, golf and cross country.
DODEA-Korea was able to add volleyball and doubles tennis when the district and U.S. Forces Korea submitted a plan to do those sports safely, DODEA-Pacific officials said. DODEA-Korea also was able to add basketball for the coming winter months.
That process remains open, DODEA-Pacific officials said.
“With the command’s support and DODEA approval, districts may work with military and public health officials to put in place appropriate mitigation measures to offer additional sports,” DODEA-Pacific spokeswoman Miranda Ferguson said in a statement.
McKinney also said DODEA-Pacific was leaving open the possibility of having Far East track and field virtually, as it is doing with cross country, the results of which are to be announced next month.
“Track lends itself to that better than other sports,” said Dan Galvin, coach of defending Far East Division II champion in track and cross country.
“Track and field athletes can still have a meaningful season by competing against themselves and the clock or measuring tape.”
But for the most part, coaches and schools must deal with possible resumption of spring sports in 2022.
“(This is) uncharted territory for everybody, as programs will all be on equal footing once things come back to normal,” said defending Far East Division I track champion Humphreys coach Ron Merriwether. “This is tough … for any coach trying to defend or build a program.”
Football coaches said they plan to push DODEA-Pacific to at least allow individual workout and conditioning.
“We will lobby to be allowed to use balls and basically begin coaching the sport while also conditioning, especially when the vaccine arrives,” said Sergio Mendoza, coach of defending Far East D-I football champion Kadena.