Edgren teams, Okinawa gridders focus on being safe, going home
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan – High school football players from Kadena and Kubasaki and spring sports teams from Robert D. Edgren had far greater concerns than getting ready for competition this weekend.
A day after DODDS Japan officials announced that all DODDS-related sporting events in the Kanto Plain area were canceled, many expressed relief at how fortunate they were not to be caught up in the Tohoku earthquake’s wrath, worrying about how their families were and how they would get home.
Eighty Edgren student-athletes – almost half the school’s population, among the soccer, softball, baseball and track teams – were stranded at Yokota’s Temporary Living Facility, along with about 30 football players slated to play in Saturday’s Camellia Bowl at Kawasaki Stadium.
“We need to feel blessed that we have our lives,” said Eagles girls soccer coach Justin Edmonds. “Getting my players back to Misawa (Air Base) — that’s my No. 1 priority. Sports is on the third burner.”
Some athletes and coaches were on Yokota at 2:46 p.m. Friday when the earthquake struck.
“Being in the elevator on the fourth floor of the TLF, it’s kind of scary,” said Kadena running back Thomas McDonald, who immediately jumped off the open elevator with teammate Shariff Coleman and ran for the cover of teammate Aaron Ahner’s room. "We just started praying after that."
Others were still in transit when the temblor occurred. Edgren’s track and field team was on a JR East train when it derailed near Komagawa Station. They waited 1½ hours before they were let off, then waited in the cold for five hours for a DODDS bus that took them to Yokota.
Nobody was hurt, coach Martina Campbell said. “We kept the athletes together and tried to maintain calm … The kids were great about it.”
“Somebody was looking out for us,” Edmonds said.
Also stranded were some 80 swimmers from the Okinawa Dolphins Swim Team who flew up Friday to compete in the American Swim Council of Japan's Junior Olympic Meet. It was not immediately known if the meet was canceled.
The football players were to fly back home Sunday morning. It was not immediately known, DODDS officials said, when the Edgren players would travel, since safety questions still hung over roads and railways.
DODDS Japan district superintendent Clayton Fujie said they would hold the Edgren athletes “for at least one more day,” and meanwhile would continue to billet and feed them. “And we’ve been in touch with administration and parents to let them know their children are OK.”
Athletes and coaches also kept in touch with loved ones via cell phone – when they worked – and Facebook. “It saved us as far as communicating with our families,” Campbell said.