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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Josh Ecker knows the thrill of being named "All-Far East."

The junior distance runner last November helped lead his Seoul American Falcons to a Far East Cross Country Meet team title. His seventh-place finish in the individual race landed him a spot on the All-Far East team.

Last Friday, Ecker enjoyed a similar feeling, capturing the two-mile race in the 7th Mike Petty Memorial Track and Field meet.

Yet a Petty gold doesn’t carry with it the same meaning as a Far East gold, Ecker said. Establishing a DODDS-Pacific Far East track and field meet is something he’d like to see for future runners chasing athletic scholarships.

"A Far East title would hold more weight with colleges," Ecker said. Since DODDS-Korea doesn’t run a track season, Ecker and about 30 others from four Korea schools run for Seoul Track Club, a private enterprise formed in 2005 by Yongsan Garrison-based Army Col. Kevin Madden.

"We have kids who don’t run in Korea because they believe they won’t get full recognition," Madden said. To get more student-athletes interested in the sport, "absolutely, we need a Far East."

Last week’s Petty meet attracted more than 300 runners from 16 schools. "If we have enough teams for a meet like this, we’d have enough for a Far East meet," Ecker said. "I think a lot of athletes would like to see a Far East. It would be easy to hold and it would be worth it."

Several proposals for such a meet have been made over the years to DODDS-Pacific’s Far East Activities Council and have been tabled.

Only seven of 12 DODDS-Pacific and DDESS-Guam schools have track teams and seasons, Hobbs has long pointed out. And economics, especially in the current climate, have Hobbs and others stressing that athletes and coaches should be thankful that the FEAC calendar has remained intact.

Adding a track meet to the FEAC calendar would have to be discussed and approved, by FEAC and the district and region superintendents. The discussion, Hobbs has said previously, would revolve around issues ranging from meet length to whether international schools could come.

Reached by phone Monday, Hobbs said the issue likely will be raised again at the next FEAC meeting in May. But beyond that, there’s "no further news at this point" about adding track as a FEAC event.

Madden said he finds the financial rationale to be a paradox given the government’s effort to prop up financial institutions and automakers. "I can’t believe at a time my country is bailing out everybody … that they can’t find $20,000 or $30,000 to help these kids out," he said.

Kadena coach Sergio Mendoza says he "doesn’t buy at all" the idea that not enough schools do track and that there’s not the money for it.

"I won’t buy that until a written cost analysis and comparative study to other Far East events is done," Mendoza said, pointing to what he calls a "low-cost proposal" that Petty meet founder Charles Burns has submitted previously to FEAC.

He proposed a one-day meet with the top two event finishers in each district qualifying. No officials would be needed. Just three DODDS schools would fly if the meet were held in Japan. International schools could foot their own bill, as they do for other Far East events.

"It would be a tribute to what we’re doing and all of the hard work by Charles and others," Mendoza said, adding that there’s no guarantee Petty would continue when Burns eventually retires. "If he goes, Petty might go with him. We have the blueprint, but he’s the workhorse."

In absence of a Far East meet, Burns says he’ll continue to expand Petty and work to make the Kanto Invitational on May 16 bigger, even going so far as to say there might not be a need for a Far East, given how big the two meets have already become.

"Petty has outgrown itself. We’re bringing in some of the top competition in DODDS and the international schools. We’re putting up some impressive numbers. This will continue to be the premier high school track event in the Pacific for some time to come," Burns said.

"I resolved three years ago, we’re going to keep growing this thing and see where it leads," Burns said. "If one of these days they get a Far East, great. But if these two keep growing, there’d be no need."

But in the same breath, Burns buys Madden’s and Ecker’s argument that an official Far East state championship gold medal "would look good on your résumé" and, though Petty and Kanto have grown exponentially, they only carry with colleges the same weight as an in-season invitational.

"We understand the importance of Petty and Kanto. If you’re outside that circle, you don’t understand. You won’t understand unless you’re in tune with the region," Burns said.

The bottom line, Madden said, is for DODDS to follow other sports’ leads and give those who specialize in track their own vehicle.

"If you give kids recognition, they’ll go that much further for you," Madden said. "It also matters when you try to send somebody to college. The title ‘All-Far East’ carries a little cachet. That’s the essence of a DODDS education — work hard, get results."

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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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