Three Far East tourneys limited to DODDS schools
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific officials announced this week that Far East tournaments in tennis, cross country and wrestling will include only DODDS teams.
That eliminates the participation of international schools, which have attended these tournaments as invited guests since the 1960s. The change is effective immediately, including the tennis and cross country events scheduled for November.
In a written statement to Stars and Stripes, DODDS-Pacific’s Far East Activities Council chair Don Hobbs said the decision was made at the DODDS-Pacific regional office at Okinawa’s Torii Station, “after receiving input from adminstrators, event directors and a lengthy discussion with district superintendents.”
“The decision was based on a number of factors, including the availability of billeting, facilities, logistics and resources,” Hobbs said in the statement.
Teams participating in Far East tournaments are billeted in on-base quarters and play is conducted in DODDS school gyms or other military fitness centers on base.
The decision triggered a mixed reaction from coaches and players.
“It would have been an honor to play against such awesome players,” said Kadena sophomore tennis player Amy Lopes, who placed fourth in last year’s Far East tournament.
She lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Aska Dvorjak of Seisen International, then in the third-place match to Malika Hayashi of American School In Japan. Both players are back at their respective schools.
Not having an opportunity to play them again “is a loss,” Lopes said. “They bring so much competitive spirit to the tournament.”
Said Kadena junior cross country runner Niki Kauzlarich, “You can say you’re a DODDS-Pacific champion, but not a true Far East champion. I wish they could run. It’s not as much competition.”
Osan American tennis coach Bruce Barker said the lack of international schools has advantages and drawbacks.
“It’s nice to see those other schools there, see how much better they are and our kids like to watch those kids play, see how hard they work and realize if they work that hard, they can get up to that level,” he said. “But this gives the DODDS kids a chance to be in the spotlight.”
DODDS-Pacific conducts Far East tournaments in six sports. The change does not effect the basketball, vollyeball and soccer tournaments, which are divided into Class AA and Class A based on school enrollment.
Lack of billeting due to military exercises forced last year’s Far East wrestling tournament at Yokota Air Base, Japan, to be pushed forward a week and the boys Class A basketball tournament at Osan Air Base, South Korea, to be pushed back a week.
The Far East tournaments most immediately affected by the decision are cross country, scheduled for Nov. 8-10 at Robert D. Edgren High School at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and tennis, Nov. 10-12, at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.
Asked whether he knew of potential billeting problems at either base, Hobbs said, “There were certainly indications.”
Brian Kitts, director of the Far East wrestling tournament scheduled for February at Yokota, said it was “too early to tell” if there would have been problems but the absence of international schools will reduce the field by at least 50 wrestlers.
He also said that he feels badly for the international students who will miss out on Far East, such as Zolboo Enkhbayar, a two-time Far East most outstanding wrestler who would have had a chance in February to become only the second four-time individual gold medalist in Far East history.
“But he takes it away from a DODDS kid,” Kitts said. “That’s not fair. These [tournaments] were designed for DODDS kids.”
The international schools, mainly from Tokyo, Seoul and Manila have dominated Far East tennis and cross country since the tournaments began in the late 1970s. Only one DODDS-Pacific school, Kadena High on Okinawa, has won an overall team title in either sport, cross country in 1984 and 2002 and tennis in 1989.
That was not a factor in the decision, according to the Hobbs’ statement, which added that DODDS-Pacific values the long-standing relationship it has had with international schools, who play against DODDS schools in regular-season leagues in Japan and Korea.
“We encourage participation at every level and hope that relationships we have built throughout the Pacific will continue,” the statement said. “The long-standing partnerships have fostered goodwill. . . . We want to continue [that] partnership.”
A handful of international schools’ athletics directors said they would try to form season-ending tournaments independent of Far East. No thought, they said, was given to pulling out of league play with DODDS schools.
“I can’t imagine KAIAC [Korean-American Interscholastic Activites Conference] breaking up,” said J.P. Rader, Seoul Foreign athletic director and KAIAC president. “But the end of season, that could be a different story.”