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Clockwise from top left, Dennis Keslar, Rae Canlas, Mike Chamberlain, Karl Gerstner, Matt Irwin and Jay Irwin sport their war-painted faces before Saturday's Japan Soccer League match against the Matthew C. Perry Samurai at Bonk Field, Yokota Air Base, Japan. The Panthers won 8-0. The war paint, partly inspired by the Mel Gibson movie "Braveheart," is the latest fad tried by the Panthers in the past two seasons in the name of teamwork; they sported Mohawk haircuts and carried a statue that they called their "mojo" during last May's Far East Class AA (large schools) Tournament, in which they finished second.

Clockwise from top left, Dennis Keslar, Rae Canlas, Mike Chamberlain, Karl Gerstner, Matt Irwin and Jay Irwin sport their war-painted faces before Saturday's Japan Soccer League match against the Matthew C. Perry Samurai at Bonk Field, Yokota Air Base, Japan. The Panthers won 8-0. The war paint, partly inspired by the Mel Gibson movie "Braveheart," is the latest fad tried by the Panthers in the past two seasons in the name of teamwork; they sported Mohawk haircuts and carried a statue that they called their "mojo" during last May's Far East Class AA (large schools) Tournament, in which they finished second. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — First it was Mohawk haircuts. Then came their “mojo” statue.

Now, the Yokota Panthers boys soccer team has taken on another fad — warpainted faces.

They took to the field with various facial paint designs Saturday, and it seemed to help, as the Panthers shut out the Robert D. Edgren Eagles of Misawa Air Base 5-0 and the Matthew C. Perry Samurai of Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station 8-0 in Japan Soccer League games.

“It’s a team thing,” said senior sweeper Mike Chamberlain after the Panthers completed the weekend with four victories and a 7-0 mark on the season. “Everyone wants to do it. We’re crazy like that.”

The craziness began last season during the Panthers’ drive to a second-place finish in the Far East Class AA Tournament.

Two days into the tournament, four Panthers — Corbett Simon, Matt Irwin, Jake Ward and Karl Gerstner, all returnees this season — arrived at the field sporting Mohawk haircuts. Others followed suit during the week.

Then before the tournament semifinal, a 6-0 victory over Seoul American, all of Yokota’s players lined up in front of the bench and rubbed a foot-high porcelain dragon statue, which they called their “mojo.”

Their latest fad, the players said, was inspired partly by the movies “Braveheart” and “Gladiator,” but mostly because of a JSL series they’d played the weekend before at Iwakuni in ankle-deep mud, some of which got splattered on their faces.

The war-painted faces left coach Tim Pujol shaking his head.

“Somehow, it’s just part of the deal with this team,” he said. “They don’t get it from me, I can tell you that.”

Pujol and his players are pleased to be playing so well in their JSL games, outscoring their opponents 40-1 in tuning up for their Tuesday showdown with Zama American, also unbeaten at 3-0 with a goal margin of 19-1.

“That’s our first big test of the season,” Jay Irwin said.

Chamberlain said he “guaranteed” Yokota would win, “no matter what it takes.”

“We’re going to put everything out there on the field,” he said. “We’re thinking a lot about that game. We can’t be too confident. We know that Zama wants to beat us. We’ll be out there, painted faces and all.”

Actually, the war paint might end up getting benched.

According to Pujol, the referees for Saturday’s matches said they’d prefer to see the painted faces sidelined, because such wasn’t in the “spirit” of the game.

“So this is the last time they’ll wear the face paint,” Pujol said. “But who knows? Maybe it’ll be the return of the Mohawks, or something like that.”

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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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