Battle for Okinawa hoop supremacy resumes

Education
Skylor Stevens, a junior playing for Kubasaki, started his high school career at Kadena, following in the footsteps of his father, Jason, and uncle, Travis. The rivalry might not be as cantankerous as it used to be, but it's still intense on the court. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)
From Stripes.com
Skylor Stevens, a junior playing for Kubasaki, started his high school career at Kadena, following in the footsteps of his father, Jason, and uncle, Travis. The rivalry might not be as cantankerous as it used to be, but it's still intense on the court. (Dave Ornauer/Stars and Stripes)

Battle for Okinawa hoop supremacy resumes

by: Dave Ornauer | .
Stars and Stripes | .
published: December 12, 2014

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – Invariably, the conversation turns to basketball – Kadena vs. Kubasaki basketball – whenever junior forward Skylor Stevens, his father Jason and uncle Travis get together.

They talk of the rivalry between the two schools, which began in 1981 when Kadena opened its doors (Kubasaki opened in 1946). The games are often intense between teams whose schools stand three miles apart and where green and white and black and gold run as thick as blood.

That rivalry resumes Friday, when the Panthers and Dragons girls, each seeking their first wins, take the court at 5 p.m. and the boys, Kadena unbeaten through two games and Kubasaki three, follow at 6:30 p.m.

“My dad and uncle talk about it all the time,” said Skylor, who a year ago played for Kadena but transferred to Kubasaki, where his mom Miki teaches. Jason teaches at Kadena Middle School.

Skylor’s father, who played for Kadena in the mid-1980s and won Far East Division I titles in 1986 and ’87, “says the rivalry … was bigger back then, because Kadena and Kubasaki players didn’t really hang out or talk to each other like we do now,” Skylor said.

Travis Stevens, who now teaches at The Sullivans Elementary School at Yokosuka Naval Base, followed in Jason Stevens’ footsteps, and was part of a Kadena team that played against Kubasaki in one of the greatest Far East Division I title games ever played, in 1992.

Things have changed since those early days of arguably the biggest rivalry in the Pacific regardless of sport.

Where in the 1980s, fans of each team would greet their opposites with boos and rancor, that’s given over to what Panthers senior girls forward Jasmine Rhodes terms “respect” and “sportsmanship.”

What makes the rivalry so special?

Don Hobbs, now the DODDS Pacific athletics coordinator, was Kubasaki’s boys coach in the 1980s and 1990s, when the vitriol between the schools gradually gave way to that respect.

Perhaps the big turning point was the 1992 Far East D-I Tournament final, Kubasaki at Kadena, played before an overflow crowd at the Panther Pit. Substitute guard Colbey Hicks hit a running layup with four seconds left, giving Kadena a 70-69 double-overtime win.

In between the two overtimes, players shook hands, hugged and slapped backs and the fans of both sides stood on their feet in appreciation of both teams.

“It wasn’t hateful or spiteful,” Hobbs said. “We were rivals when the ball was thrown into the air, but I’d like to think (Kadena coach) Scott Davis and I were good friends. And the players knew each other. The key word was they respected each other.”

“You’re personally familiar, they with you, you with them, for years sometimes,” Kadena’s current coach Gerald Johnson said. “Bragging rights, school pride, the schools’ closeness, they’re big factors, they play into it.”

Getting to know Kubasaki coach Jon Fick and having a collegial relationship with him is part of the rivalry’s charm, Johnson said.  “It’s fun, it’s special, to play opposite each other,” he said.

Jason and Miki Stevens plan to have front-row seats at the Dragons Den when the schools tee it up and the rivalry resumes once more.

“I can’t wait,” Skylor Stevens said.

ornauer.dave@stripes.com