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If Craig Bell was being fitted for marketing slogans, the candidates might read:

“A wrestling Army of one.”

“The few, the proud, the Samurai.”

“We’re ready to compete … all one of us.”

Bell’s lot is a unique one in this Pacific high school wrestling season — he’s the only competitor representing Matthew C. Perry High School at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in southwestern Japan.

Fresh off a 24-8 season, Bell looked forward to his senior year at South Kitsap High in Port Orchard, Wash. He wanted to improve on his sixth-place finish in the Washington State Freestyle Tournament and go for a Washington Region 3 or state high school title.

But his father, David, of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, was reassigned to Iwakuni last spring, and when he arrived at Perry, he found that no wrestling team existed.

“I was pretty let down,” said Bell, who would have been one of three state tournament returnees for South Kitsap. “I wanted to find any way I could wrestle.”

Perry hadn’t fielded a wrestling team since the 1970s, but there was precedent for solo wrestlers performing on the Far East stage:

Adam Krievs split the 2004-05 school year between Kinnick and Perry. The senior wore Samurai maroon and black in the 2005 Far East tournament, in which he finished third at 180 pounds.Chris Edmonson transferred from Okinawa to Pusan American in 1999, and wrestled for Taegu American in 2000 and 2001, placing third at 141 and 148 pounds in Far East tournaments.Perry athletic director Mark Lange was aware of those precedents. Bell ended up in Lange’s journalism class, where he discussed his wrestling days in Washington and his desire to continue.“It’s unfortunate when a kid moves into your area and you don’t have his sport,” Lange said. “This kid wants to wrestle in college.”

The obvious solution, Lange said, was to pair Bell up with E.J. King at Sasebo Naval Base, four hours southwest. Lange called King AD and wrestling coach Tom Wright, who said he was “more than happy” to take Bell.

Selling Perry and the DODDS-Japan district was similarly easy.

“The school was all for it,” assistant principal Dr. Robert Funk said.

“It’s been done before and we’ll do it again,” DODDS-Japan assistant district superintendent Jim Bowers said. “We want to help the kid continue his wrestling.”

The district and the school required Bell to buy his equipment and make his own way to and from E.J. King’s meet-up points for tournament travel.

So Bell bought gear that says “Perry” on it, Lange said. Bell then found a Marine wrestler, Cpl. William Holving, who trains with him daily and is helping him convert from stateside collegiate folkstyle to international freestyle, used at Far East. Bell also trains at a Japanese-style dojo off base.

“It’s definitely different from what I’m used to. A huge difference,” Bell said. “Wrestling people who don’t speak my language and a guy who’s 40 pounds heavier than me.”

Bell says he’s learned some new moves he believes will make him better.

“I still use a lot of the folkstyle moves, but I’ve had to change my arsenal. I’m using different moves and learning variations.”

Then there’s the travel. David Bell drove Craig to Fukuoka to catch a flight to Misawa for a DODDS-Japan tournament at Edgren. Last weekend, Bell braved the bullet train ride to Fukuoka on his way to Daegu, South Korea, and a meet with three DODDS-Korea schools.

“He’s making it happen,” Lange said. “He’s a hard worker, self-motivated. He seems like the real deal. Incredible when you see that kind of dedication.”

Bell won the 135-pound title in the DODDS-Japan tournament on Dec. 1 at Edgren, then on Friday decisioned Daegu American senior Andrew Davenport 2-0 to remain unbeaten.

“He’s strong,” Daegu coach Bill Riggs said. “He’s really deliberate. You could see in his eyes. He knew what he was doing. Nothing was haphazard. He’s got some good potential.”

Acceptance came quickly from his Cobras teammates. “He’s actually a pretty solid wrestler,” said E.J. King senior David Heitstuman, a defending Far East champion. “He brings a dimension to the team, he has a lot of experience, and it’s great to have a warmup partner.”

“They’ve accepted me like I was one of theirs,” Bell said.

There’s still two months before Far East, Feb. 13-16 at Camp Foster, Okinawa, but Lange feels the sky could be the limit. “People like him are go-getters,” he said.

“Maybe this will spark interest” in Perry starting a full program, Yokota coach Brian Kitts said. “The more the merrier.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He served 10½ years in the Air Force, the last 4½ assigned to Stripes in Tokyo, and was then hired by Stripes on Oct. 25, 1985. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages Pacific Storm Tracker.
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