USFJ-AFL appoints official on Okinawa
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The commissioner post of the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League has become a two-headed one.
Antonio Cleveland, who played in the league for five years with Yokota and two seasons ago with the Okinawa Giants, has been appointed the league’s representative for the island’s three teams by Joe Howell, another former Yokota player who took the commissioner’s reins April 1.
“‘Cleve’ is one of the original league pioneers,” Howell said in announcing Cleveland’s appointment via e-mail to the league’s coaches Friday.
Howell noted that with the addition of the Courtney-Hansen Titans and Futenma Falcons giving the league seven teams for the coming season, it was “critical” to have somebody in place on Okinawa to help resolve local league issues that Howell, stationed at Yokota Air Base, might not.
Cleveland, 34, a technical sergeant assigned to the 82nd Reconnaissance Squadron at Kadena Air Base, volunteered for the position two weeks ago. Howell nominated him for the post April 15, and the vote by the seven league coaches was unanimous in his favor, Howell said.
“I thought it would be something I would love to do,” said Cleveland, a Macon, Ga., native., who has been associated with the league for seven years.
As teammates with the Raiders in 1999 and 2000, Howell and Cleveland “both have come up and struggled together to even get a decent league together. We know the chuckholes and difficulties and how to get around them,” Cleveland said.
The main issue Cleveland wishes to tackle is lobbying the various island commands to ensure each team is command sponsored, as are the Raiders and three-time defending champion Yokosuka Seahawks.
“A lot of teams having to pay for their own equipment, having to start from scratch again from talking to most of the players,” he said. “I have to see what I can do to help alleviate that situation.”
With the Titans and Falcons being run by officers, Lt. Col. Tony Bowman up at Camp Hansen and Capt. John Quintana at Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, “we have some high-ranking people involved, so that’s a positive sign,” Cleveland said.
His ultimate goal is to have the USFJ-AFL as vibrant on Okinawa as interservice football was in its heyday in the 1980s, when as many as nine teams played in the old Okinawa Interservice League.
“I want to try to bring back the camaraderie between the services here, just getting everybody together and affording opportunities for people to play football and just keep it alive down here,” Cleveland said.