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FUTENMA MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Japan — Day after day, John Quintana learns how tough it is to get an interservice football team off the ground.

The Futenma Falcons — the newest entity in the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League — are to begin the season on June 14 with a road trip to three-time defending champion Yokosuka.

Challenges remain before that can happen. Deployments and world events have kept many of the Falcons’ 32 players away from practice, and the team still needs equipment.

“I’m struggling, but we’re getting there,” said Quintana, 36, a Marine captain assigned as Futenma’s air traffic control facilities officer. “Starting from scratch is tough. It’s been a learning experience.”

If the Falcons field a team, they would become the second on Okinawa to be added to the league, joining the Courtney-Hansen Titans, who committed to play the 2003 season last month.

The seven league teams will play each other twice. The three Okinawa teams also will play one game each against Ryukyu University. That includes the Kadena Dragons, formerly the Okinawa Giants.

The process of putting a team on Futenma — the first since the Cyclones of the old Okinawa Interservice League back in 1989 — began in October when Quintana saw a flyer that then-commissioner Tim Buck had posted near the base’s Semper Fit gymnasium.

“That Futenma didn’t have a team, as far as I was concerned, that’s un-American,” said Quintana, who helped start a six-team military league in Hawaii while stationed there in 1993.

He talked with Buck, who served as league commissioner until this month. Then Quintana began assembling a team.

The difficulties began as well.

On average, Quintana said, “we get 10 players at practice.” The team checks out footballs every day from the gym. He’s trying to set up a group bank account to pool player contributions toward equipment. He’s also seeking command sponsorship of the team.

Then there’s Futenma’s high-tempo operation and deployment schedules.

“We have guys on deployment now,” Quintana said; May’s Cobra Gold exercise in Thailand will claim even more bodies “for a month or so. I’m finding things out every day, working through the muck.”

One bit of good news is that Quintana, a defense-oriented coach, has found an assistant, Eric Rodriguez, who has worked offense.

He hopes to order equipment within a few days and get the pads in time for team members to wear them for “two intensive weeks” of practice before travelling to Yokosuka.

“My goal is that by the end of the season, we’ll have a team on the field, and next year, we’ll be more organized,” he said. “Even if we have to borrow pads, we’ll do what it takes. It is a fever, but we have to start it. It’s a matter of getting it started.”

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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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