Track still picking up speed in the Far East
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Growth continues to be the hallmark of the Alva W. “Mike” Petty Memorial Track and Field Meet. But track still can’t get out of the blocks where its chances of becoming a full-fledged DODDS-Pacific-sponsored Far East sport are concerned.
In its fifth year, the Petty meet featured 325 athletes from 12 teams representing a meet-record 15 schools last weekend at Kubasaki High School’s Mike Petty Stadium.
Still, not every DODDS-Pacific school fields a track team. Okinawa’s Kadena and Kubasaki high schools have competed since 1990 and Guam High formed a team this year, but only four of DODDS-Japan’s seven schools have one. DODDS-Korea’s three schools have none; indeed, Camp Casey’s Schoonover Bowl has the only regulation 400-meter track on a U.S. base in all of South Korea.
All that, coupled with budget cuts that Department of Defense Dependents Schools officials say have hit nearly every aspect of its Pacific operation, leaves track and field on the outside looking in.
Track’s chief proponent on Okinawa, longtime Kubasaki coach Charles Burns, has sent proposals to every DODDS-Pacific Far East Activities Council meeting since 2004, all of which have been tabled.
The main culprit: Money, or lack thereof.
“We would love to have” track and field as a Far East event, said FEAC chair Don Hobbs. “But it’s just not practical, feasible or realistic” in the current budget climate.
Even with the Seoul Track Club, Guam High and Robert D. Edgren of northern Japan coming on board with programs this year, including track as a Far East sport is now “farther away than ever,” Hobbs said.
Burns understands that the budget cavalry isn’t coming, but he refuses to be dissuaded.
“We’re long beyond the point of showing we can do this,” said Burns of the Petty meet, which coupled with next month’s Kanto Plain Invitational in Tokyo will give the sport two Pacificwide open meets for the first time since DODDS-Pacific disbanded track as a Far East sport in 1979.
“We’re not going to stop. We’ll keep this growing and growing and make it the best meet in the region. We’re not going to be discouraged by lack of DODDS action. We’re self-sufficient. It’s fun for the kids, the parents, the coaches.”
The sport’s growth, Burns said, should lead to the “logical” conclusion that Far East status would follow once the budget strings are loosened.
Six times since 2004, Burns has proposed holding a Far East meet over two days at a Kanto Plain location, such as Yokota High School.
Burns’ proposal would cost $32,684 per meet. No officials would be required, Burns said. Coaches and volunteers would do the timing and measuring.
Hobbs acknowledges that Burns’proposal has merit, but the lack of funding precludes adding any new Far East activity for the time being.
“It would be nice to only deal with the logistics of adding Far East track and field ... and softball, and baseball," he said. “But until the money is there, I’m not even considering it.”
DODDS-Pacific has made progress in other sports, adding a Far East football playoff in 2005 and making cross country and tennis tournaments annual events starting in 2004.
“But that was before the budget crunch became a serious issue. And it is a serious issue,” Hobbs said.
Whether DODDS does the funding or otherwise, “my goal is to give a good meet for kids from all over the Far East,” Burns said. “They deserve something like this. I don’t care who’s doing it.”
Though Burns has accepted the realities, others apparently haven’t.
Kevin Madden, an Army colonel assigned to Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group Korea who serves as Seoul Track Club’s volunteer coach, calls track and field the “core of the entire Olympic movement” and the lack of a Far East meet and a track program in South Korea a “quality-of-life issue.”
Seoul American senior sprinter David Smalls, who ran previously in Connecticut, said he was “heartbroken” when he transferred to South Korea in 2005 and found there was no track program.
“I think it would bring more people together,” he said.
“Look at the diversity — middle, long, short distance, throwing. There’s a myriad of opportunities for kids,” said Josephine Pinto, an Andersen Elementary School educator on Guam and a Level 2 International Amateur Athletic Federation official whose been scoring and timing Pacific meets since 1985. “Track offers such a variety.”
Burns says he realizes that money is tight, but the budget crunch won’t last forever: “All we’re saying is, when money does come along, don’t forget about us.”