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Edgren coach John Parker gazes at the snow-covered soccer field near the high school at Misawa Air Base, Japan.

Edgren coach John Parker gazes at the snow-covered soccer field near the high school at Misawa Air Base, Japan. (John Collins / Special to S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Snow — about a foot-and-a-half deep and stretching from goal to goal — covered the field, as it had for weeks.

John Parker shook his head. Shovel in hand, a soccer ball tucked under his arm, the Robert D. Edgren High School boys coach turned from the field and headed back toward the gym, where his team was about to start practice.

“Too bad they don’t play league games indoors,” he said. “We’d be unbeatable. We’d have the best indoor team in the league.”

Misawa has been hit by steady snowfall lately, confining the boys and girls teams — who began the Japan Soccer League season last weekend — to indoor workouts. The boys practice at the high school’s old gymnasium, while the girls use the Sollars Elementary gym.

There, the clubs have conditioned, run two- and three-man weaves, dribbled balls through cones, held small-sided games and skill-building drills — everything but the outdoor workouts they sought, thanks to the ever-present white blanket.

“It even snowed on the way out, a snowfall to bid us goodbye,” Parker said, referring to the bad weather that greeted them last week on a bus trip to Ikego Heights Naval Housing Facility, where the Eagles lost 9-0 to Nile C. Kinnick on Friday.

Their woes continued last Saturday with a 7-0 defeat at Zama American.

Despite the losses, the team found at least one positive.

“It’s nice to see ground with no snow on it,” said Gerald Layden, one of just four returning players on an Edgren boys team that lost six seniors to graduation.

“With two months on a gym floor, I’m happy that they didn’t give up,” said Parker, a Navy photojournalist and volunteer coach for the Eagles. “It’s the heart of a team that wants to get better. You can see it. They’re just not used to the way the ball bounces on a grass field.”

While the Edgren boys spent much of Monday’s practice licking their wounds, a different mood permeated the Lady Eagles’ practice at Sollars — one of celebration, over a most unlikely pair of victories at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station over Matthew C. Perry.

“I can’t tell you how happy I was,” said first-year Edgren girls coach Kelly Oberg, whose club beat the Lady Samurai 5-1 Friday and 4-0 Saturday.

Granted, the Lady Eagles beat a Class A team in Perry, while the Edgren boys suffered their defeats against Class AA opposition.

But like the boys, the Edgren girls had no outdoor workouts and approached their JSL season openers “nervous and concerned,” Oberg said.

“Hands down, we could smoke anybody indoors,” said the Sollars physical education teacher.

“We hadn’t been on a field at all. I wasn’t sure how we’d do, on a full soccer field. We hadn’t practiced corner kicks, walls, direct or indirect kicks, penalty kicks. I thought we were at a huge disadvantage.”

Worse, overnight rain Friday forced to the teams playing in “ankle-deep water” in some spots of Iwakuni’s Penny Lane Field.

Snow is a fact of life for half the year at Misawa. The latest shot was a blizzard the weekend of March 8 that shut down the base.

On Honshu’s northeast coast, several miles off the Pacific Ocean shore, the air base receives an average of 120-140 inches of snow per year, according to Misawa Naval Air Facility’s Web site.

In the spring, summer and fall, the area is often shrouded in sea fog. Rainfall averages 33 inches a year. Spring and summer daytime highs range in the 70s to 90s but few facilities on base are air-conditioned.

Thus, Edgren hosts few Japan League spring events.

The Edgren soccer teams host Matthew C. Perry’s and Yokota’s boys and Nile C. Kinnick’s girls teams April 18-19. The same weekend, the Eagles baseball team plays its first home games against Zama and Perry, while Edgren’s girls softball squad entertains Zama.

Only one other home weekend dots the schedule, May 9-10.

“We can’t even consider hosting up here before spring break” from April 7-11, athletic director Sandy Merchat said. “There’s 18 inches of snow out there, and the bottom is solid ice. We tried to clear two lanes of the track just for conditioning, and we didn’t get much cleared.”

Edgren’s baseball and softball teams are also stuck indoors.

That the Class AA Far East soccer tournaments — slated for April 28 to May 2, with boys on Okinawa and girls at Camp Zama — are scheduled a month earlier this year “concerns me,” Merchat said.

“They will have had three away weekends, spring break, then a home weekend before Far East,” she said. “The snow has to melt. The fields have to dry. It should happen before April 18, but that doesn’t leave much time.”

Parker, meanwhile, must overcome a slew of obstacles this spring: the bad weather, his team’s youth and its inexperience.

“It’s one thing to make an already good team better. But you find out who’s a real coach by taking a team at rock bottom and seeing how far they can go,” Parker said. “My job is to teach and educate. They’re going to make me work this season.”

Snow permitting, of course.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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