Guam schools won't compete in Far East tourneys
Emma Sheedy is a freshman cross country runner at Guam High, who placed first in Friday’s meet against Academy of Our Lady of Guam in 24 minutes, 55 seconds and has been steadily preparing for the Far East meet in November, her parents said.
She likely won’t get the chance, in the wake of a decision made Friday by the DDESS Guam district to withdraw Guam High and all other schools on the island from participation in future DODEA Pacific Far East tournaments.
The decision was announced Friday in a letter to DDESS and local schools, athletics directors, coaches and parents by DDESS Guam district superintendent Dr. Steven Bloom. And it did not set well with Sheedy’s mother, Denise, among others who disagreed with the decision.
“I think it is unfair that they waited until now to make this decision when the athletes were working towards this goal and competing for the opportunity to go,” Denise Sheedy said.
DODDS Pacific athletics coordinator Don Hobbs confirmed that the decision is “final.” Guam High athletics director Ben Leon Guerrero declined to comment, referring all questions to Hobbs and DODDS Pacific spokesman Charly Hoff.
Bloom in his letter cited two main reasons for the decision:
¬¬-- Guam’s local league schedule matches or exceeds the same amount of competitions in DODDS schools in Japan, Okinawa and Korea through the Far East program, and also offers end-of-season tournaments that would be duplicated by continued Far East participation.
¬¬-- Health and safety concerns. DODDS Pacific’s schedule includes three seasons, while the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam offers four, and in six cases, the IIAAG’s seasons don’t match up with DODDS Pacific.
“This mismatch meant that past participation in Far East competition often posed safety and local challenges,” Bloom’s letter said.
Some Guam teams would come to Far Easts in baseball, softball, tennis, boys soccer, girls basketball and wrestling while also playing another sports season, not having had 10 practices and not being at their competitive peak, DODDS Pacific spokesman Charly Hoff said.
It also meant challenges for tournament directors who would have to scramble to redo brackets when a team from Guam withdrew at the last minute from a Far East.
The letter sparked a mixed reaction both on island and elsewhere. “I find this decision very frustrating and not fully thought out when it comes to our kids,” Denise Sheedy said.
Far East tournaments “help build relationships and competition experience,” she said. “It contributes to our kids’ quality of life. It helps build a well-rounded athletic experience.
IIAAG president Martin Boudreau expressed a similar view, but also said the decision provides the island’s schools a chance to move in a different direction, without Far East tournaments.
Though saying the IIAAG will abide by Friday’s decision, Boudreau said he has written to Bloom, calling his decision “wrong, not just for Guam but other schools in the Pacific who might not be able to participate (in Far East tournaments) either. It’s a shame.”
Guam schools have had a long history of playing in Far East tournaments, as far back as the first boys basketball tournament in 1949. They’ve been particularly strong in girls volleyball – 12 Far East Division I titles, a Pacific-record nine by Academy of Our Lady alone, and one Division II title. Guam schools have also won two D-I girls basketball and one D-I boys basketball title.
Removing Guam schools from Far East will drastically reduce the size of basketball and volleyball tournaments, to as few as nine. “It will devastate them,” said Ed Fogell of Nile C. Kinnick, who has directed several Far East basketball tournaments.
“You can adapt and make do; teams come and go from Far Easts every year. But when you talk setting up brackets and pool play, it can tear up a tournament. It can wreak havoc. It can be a mess.”
With Friday’s decision in place, Boudreau said there are “wheels in motion” to explore Guam forming its own version of Far Easts in all sports, as with the Asia-Pacific Invitational in cross country staged every October “and we would invite the DODDS schools as well,” he said.
Friday’s decision only applies to athletics, Bloom said, adding that Guam High would continue attending academic, arts and JROTC events.
Boudreau some weeks back said there was a chance Guam’s school system could move to a three-quarter schedule and marry up with DODDS Pacific’s. Should that occur in future years, Guam’s Far East participation “will be reevaluated,” Bloom’s letter said.
“No guarantees,” Hobbs said. “If it does indeed happen, we’ll see.”