KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The decision to limit travel by high school teams to non-DODDs-sponsored events has the parties on either side of the debate steadfast in either their support or opposition to the ruling.

It ensures classroom progress while maintaining playing opportunities for high school student athletes, say most administrators, principals and athletic directors.

It denies student athletes, particularly on Okinawa, chances to face better competition, counters another group, mainly coaches, players and parents.

The dispute centers on last spring’s decision by district superintendents of Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific schools to bar teams from traveling out of their areas to non-DODDS-sponsored events if it means missing class time.

“Being out of school is our main concern,” said DODDS-Pacific Chief of Staff Jeff Martin.

Student athletes already have regular league play and weeklong, season-ending Far East tournaments in eight sports, he said. During fall, winter and spring sports seasons, schools in Japan and Korea send teams long distances, sometimes on weekdays, to compete in leagues co-sponsored by DODDS and international schools. Korea has 10 such schools; Japan, 15. But just two DODDS high schools — Kadena and Kubasaki — and two small missionary schools are on Okinawa.

“Kadena and Kubasaki are two of the most isolated DODDS schools in the world in respect to competition,” said Lon LaGrave, 52, a father of two Kadena student athletes. Mainland Japan and Korea “have numerous competition possibilities, and they still miss class time.”

The Okinawa Activities Council’s volleyball campaign, for instance, provides just three varsity matches pitting Kadena against Kubasaki, plus whatever others can be arranged with local schools.

“That’s not a varsity season,” said LaGrave, whose daughter, Katie, is a volleyball standout.

Dr. Gayle Vaughn-Wiles, DODDS-Okinawa district superintendent, counters that between Japanese schools on Okinawa and regular-season games against the two missionary schools, Kadena and Kubasaki get plenty of competition.

“The opportunities are there,” she said.

But playing Japanese teams doesn’t allow Kadena or Kubasaki to “see who we’re going to be playing at Far East” tournaments, said Katie LaGrave.

The LaGraves would like for the Kadena girls basketball team to return to the Hong Kong International School tournament, a regular for Kadena and Kubasaki since 1996.

But it’s scheduled for the first weekend of December and would mean two days of missed classes.

“If they have to miss a class, it’s a no-go,” said Vaughn-Wiles. “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t concerned about student educational progress and achievement.”

But barring such travel, LaGrave argued, is “denying student-athletes tremendous educational opportunities. My daughter spent four days living with a family in China” during the 2002 Hong Kong tourney. “How can you equate that with missed classroom time?”

DODDS districts in Japan and Korea have experimented with a girls volleyball “pilot program” in which smaller schools such as Taegu traveled to play schools in Japan. But it requires missing little school, said DODDS-Korea Assistant District Superintendent Dennis Rozzi.

Said Peter Grenier, a DODDS-Japan spokesman, “We’re trying to discourage missing school time. They miss enough as it is.”

DODDS district office sources in Japan and Korea said DODDS teams in the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference average 2.5 days of missed classroom time per season, as they did in Japan, where schools travel hundreds of miles on weekends, from Sasebo Naval Base to Misawa Air Base.

Nine-year DODDS coach Tim Pujol, now at Yokota, said arguing that students miss too much school “doesn’t hold water.” He was required to submit his Taegu American athletes’ grades to the DODDS regional office on Okinawa, he said, “and after two years, it was found that players who attend Far East events have higher GPAs than regular students.

“What we do in athletics is pretty darned important in augmenting a kid’s education.”

The policy basically put an end to E.J. King’s preseason Turkey Shootout basketball tournament, and Principal Linda Connelly went even further, ordering the event to be scaled back, saying it was separating children from their families at Thanksgiving and taxing billeting and other facilities.

Kubasaki boys basketball coach Chris Sullivan, an outspoken travel ban critic, said the loss of five games the Dragons would have played at the Shootout will hurt his team’s Far East preparation.

Results suggest otherwise:

¶ Kadena is the only DODDS-Pacific school to win a Far East cross country meet (1984 and 2002) and Far East tennis tournament (1989).

¶ Kubasaki has won 10 Class AA Far East boys basketball titles; the girls have captured eight. The Kadena boys own seven championships; the Lady Panthers, four.

¶ Kadena and Kubasaki have dominated the Far East soccer tournament since its 1998 inception.

“With the lack of competition down here, it’s a wonder that Okinawa schools manage to be as competitive as they are at Far East events,” Sullivan said. “We are lucky to have such talented and gifted athletes here on Okinawa.”

LaGrave, acknowledging that chances of getting the policy overturned on Okinawa are remote, said he’d simply like to increase awareness of the issue.

“I’d like to see other parents speak up,” he said. “I’ve heard from a number of parents who didn’t realize this was in effect and asked who they should talk to about it.”

LaGrave said he’d prefer a policy that “allows my kids to compete against other schools like they do in Japan, Korea and Europe.”

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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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