YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Yokota’s Jonica Childress pounced on the rebound of Sarah Weber’s shot and banged it past Robert D. Edgren’s goalkeeper.

The goal gave Yokota a 1-0 lead in the third minute of Friday’s Japan Soccer League encounter. But the Lady Panthers, who went on to a 7-1 victory, got something else they’d been craving.

“Ice cream! Ice cream!” the players shouted after the early score.

Behind the bench, Mike Wagner, arguably the team’s No. 1 fan, smiled, knowing he’d have to shell out the money for that incentive.

“I don’t mind buying it for them,” he said.

The 55-year-old retired Air Force Office of Special Investigations agent, and husband of Yokota team sponsor Patricia Wagner, has a rule for the club: Score in the first 15 minutes, and he’ll buy a gallon tub of Neapolitan ice cream for the players to enjoy during Monday film sessions.

“So I spend Mondays scooping out the ice cream and toppings for them,” said Wagner, whose daughters, Maren and Brett, play for the team.

“Last year, we had trouble getting focused in the first 20 minutes of matches,” said Brett Wagner, who had an assist on Friday. “So he offered to buy ice cream if we did, and then we started scoring early in our matches. I mean, who doesn’t like ice cream? He’s our ice cream truck.”

“If I’m hungry,” added Shawna Vitarbo, who dished out two assists, “I know who to go to.”

But does a gallon tub of Neapolitan really do the trick?

“I don’t think so. The goals are going to come anyway,” Mike Wagner said. “But they do like their ice cream.”

Don’t tell that to the girls, though.

“It’s a motivator for us,” defender June Garrett said.

The Lady Panthers had a more serious reason to improve their play. After getting off to a lackluster 2-2-1 start, the team emphasized harder work and sharper focus in workouts over the past week.

“We tried to keep all the attitudes off the field and talk like normal people,” forward Minami Plude said. During past practices, she added, there had been conflict, but “this week, we worked on … keeping the attitudes in check, talking and working together.”

“We were a team tonight,” Brett Wagner said.

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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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