Trio chosen as Athletes of the Year
Stars and Stripes June 8, 2003
Tim Pujol remembers as if it happened yesterday.
It was the fall of 2000, and he was the second-year coach of the Yokota High School football team. Mike Chamberlain was a sophomore.
During a practice drive, the offense had the ball at the opposing unit’s 12-yard line and Pujol called for a deep pass pattern.
Chamberlain trotted to the sideline. “Coach, when we’re down that deep, that kind of pass serves no purpose,” he calmly told Pujol.
Initially surprised by Chamberlain’s candor, Pujol thought about it and later realized what type of player he had.
“He’s always thinking,” Pujol said of Chamberlain, who would ultimately lead Yokota to four straight Japan Football League titles and three consecutive victories in the Rising Sun Bowl All-Japan championship. “He’s not shy to speak his mind. He’s a straight shooter.”
Throughout his prep career, Chamberlain put up impressive statistics.
Last fall, he gained 2,354 all-purpose yards on 220 touches with 26 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Then, he went on to win the 158-pound weight-class championship while leading Yokota to its first Far East individual freestyle wrestling team title in 25 years.
For good measure, he added 19 goals to power the Panthers to their fourth straight Japan Soccer League championship and second consecutive runner-up finish in the Class AA Far East Tournament. He was selected for his second All-Tournament team.
For all that, Chamberlain repeats as Stars and Stripes’ Pacific high school male Athlete of the Year, part of Ornauer’s Recognition for a Nice Year (ORNY) Awards, now in their 17th year.
On the girls side, sophomore Brieanna Carroll of Korea’s Pusan American shares the honor with junior Theresa Gittens of Kadena High on Okinawa.
The three share the Melody K. Halloran Memorial Award, named in honor of the Zama American sophomore three-sport standout who was killed in an automobile accident Feb. 28, 1991.
The trio has another common quality, coaches of all three said: Aside from the honors they’ve collected, they served as team leaders, at times acting as secondary coaches in practice and on the field during games.
“Mike’s always been a leader by what he does. He’s a quiet leader,” Pujol said about the 3.2 grade-point average student. “He plays hard, and he expects the people around him to give as much as he gives, which is a lot. Mike is a winner. When it’s a big game, or a big play at a big moment, he’s at his best.”
First-year Kadena basketball coach Ken Hudson echoed those sentiments about Gittens, a 3.57 GPA student and three-sport standout for the Lady Panthers.
As point guard, Gittens led the team in scoring and assists and was second in steals, leading Kadena to its first Class AA title in nine seasons.
“She is the direct link between the coach in her role as team captain and point guard,” Hudson said. “She simply did everything on and off the court, relayed plays to the team, directed players to their positions, took over the game when the situation dictated it.
“She held team meetings when needed to deal with personality problems, she reported issues to the coaching staff, she organized sleepovers, dinners and meetings for team-building. Theresa called players on my behalf and helped keep everyone’s head on straight.”
Gittens also earned All-Far East honors in pacing Kadena to a fourth-place showing in the Class AA girls soccer tournament. As soon as that season ended, she put on a glove and picked up a bat, helping the Lady Panthers to the title in the inaugural Okinawa High School Athletic Association girls softball season.
Another do-it-all performer with leadership qualities, Carroll became the first runner in Pusan American history to crack the top 10 of a Far East cross-country meet in November on Guam.
She followed that by again grabbing Class A All-Far East Tournament honors in basketball and soccer. On the pitch, she matched her 2002 effort with 26 goals and lifted the Lady Panthers into the Class A finals for the first time in school history.
“There’s nothing she can’t do,” said Breanne Robison, a junior and co-captain with Carroll on the basketball team.
“If you put a task in front of her that has to do with sports, she will fulfull it, and exceed expectations. She’s a team player, always gives it her all and always has a positive attitude. And if there’s a problem on the team, she’s there to help solve it. She’s just amazing.”
And now, the rest of the 2002-03 Pacific school year ORNY Awards:
• Coach, team of the year — Pujol and the Panthers found out two weeks into the football season that they had suited up an ineligible player and had to forfeit their first two games, both victories. Rather than implode, Yokota rallied to win its remaining nine games, including a 57-14 Rising Sun rout of Okinawa’s Kubasaki Samurai.
• Program of the year — With Gittens’ help, Kadena won Far East tournament titles in all three seasons. The cross-country team became only the second Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific team to win a team title in the 24-year history of the biennial event. That was followed by the girls basketball crown, and the boys soccer team winning its second Class AA title.
• Most improved team — With a 14-0 regular-season mark and a 66-3 goal differential, the Guam High girls soccer team secured the first island team championship in school history, then earned a runner-up finish in the Class AA showdown, losing 2-0 to Kubasaki in the final May 2 at Camp Zama, Japan.
• Most improved program — As good as Yokota football, wrestling and boys soccer were, the school also got a boost from girls soccer, which finished second in the JSL, and the track team, which claimed second in the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools season and final meet.
• Most significant dethroning — The Nile C. Kinnick girls soccer team captured its first JSL title and brought down a dynasty. The American School In Japan had won every league title since it began playing soccer in 1989.
• Play of the year — Chamberlain’s return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the Rising Sun Bowl on Nov. 16 at Yokota marked the second straight year he’d done that in the All-Japan title game, and it proved to be the signature play in the Panthers’ season.
• Game of the year — Kadena’s boys soccer team saved the best for last, with senior captain Scott Knutson scoring the title-clinching goal in the 80th minute as the Panthers edged Yokota 2-1. In the 2002 championship match, Yokota fell by the same margin to Kubasaki.
• Comeback of the year — Faith Academy’s girls basketball team appeared to be vanquished, trailing two-time defending Class A champion Osan American 28-17 with 6:50 left in the third quarter. The Lady Vanguards outscored the Lady Cougars 32-11 the rest of the way to seize their second Class A title and sixth Far East crown in eight seasons.
• Best new events of the year — Hands down, it was the first combined Class AA/Class A Far East All-Star boys basketball game Feb. 22 at Seoul American. Great showcase event, and a stepping stone for 15 of them who will head to an AAU summer tournament next month in Detroit. Also, a tip of the cap to Charles Burns, the longtime Kubasaki track and field coach who organized the Mike Petty Memorial Invitational Meet at the school April 18-19 on Okinawa. Could be a precursor to a long-sought DODDS-Pacific Far East meet.
• Trivia — Kadena becomes the third school to win three Far East tournament titles in one school year. What were the other two, which sports did they win and when did they do it?
• James Brown award — For the hardest-working teams in the Pacific. Matthew C. Perry’s girls basketball team from Japan played the six-day Class A tournament with five players. Zama American’s girls softball team played five games in a seven-hour span, emerging from the loser’s bracket to win the DODDS-Japan tournament in May. And Kubasaki’s boys basketball squad laced up for six games in 30 hours, falling 84-74 to Seoul American in the Class AA final.
• Trivia answer — Kubasaki of Okinawa (girls soccer, basketball, boys soccer, wrestling) and Osan American of South Korea (girls volleyball, girls basketball, girls soccer) accomplished the feat just last year.