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Okinawa Giants ready for upcoming season

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-04-10

Tackle football is back on Okinawa thanks to the perseverance and efforts of American Ed Lewis. Following a long hiatus for football on Okinawa, the former U.S. Marine started his quest to bring back the game in 1995. He began with a team of American civilians and local Okinawans, but problems concerning insurance and other difficulties forced coach Lewis this year to go with an all- U.S. military team - the first on Okinawa since 1991. "When I was here before they had so much tackle football, and there was so much excitement," explained Lewis. "These marines work out and they need a chance to release their energy. They love football, and I wanted to give these guys something to do." Coach Lewis has managed to pool 31 talented players for his Okinawa Giants, who are tentatively scheduled to play six games this year. The Giants meet their first opponent on May 8, when they play the Ryukyu Stingrays at either Kubasaki High School or the Foster Field House. The Stingrays are a local university team expected to give the Giants a good test in speed and stamina. A second game against the Stingrays is slated for May 15, before the Giants take on Misawa May 23. The team then hits the road to Yokosuka June 27, followed by an Independence Day clash with Yokoda. In September the Giants return to Okinawa's grid iron with a tough game against the All Marine Corps Team. Lewis said contacts have also been made with Guam and the White Dolphins, a Japanese team from the mainland, who Lewis is hoping can play the Giants in an exhibition game sometime this year.

The team has been practicing since February to get ready for this season, and Lewis is betting his inexperienced team is going to surprise quite a few people. "We have some good players out there, and these guys are ready," commented Lewis. The Giants offense will center around quarterback Fred Ellis, who played for Yokoda High School and the Yokoda Military Base team in 1997. "Playing with these guys will be a good experience," said Ellis. When asked how he thought the team will perform, he said: "Our name is going to be known." Lewis and assistant coach Willie Brooks are banking on Ellis' strong arm to guide the Giants to a potent aerial attack. Middle linebacker Leckie Baptista, known to team members as "Maui", and linebacker Ryan Augustine bring size, speed and experience to the team and are expected to provide plenty of headaches for the Giants defense. "This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to come to Okinawa," said Baptista, who played semi-pro football in Texas. "Flag football is a totally different game, and this is what separates the players."

Augustine feels that his team's chance for success this year look "pretty good," adding that there is a "camaraderie" among the players which will provide a cohesive "teamwork and togetherness" that "will carry us to the finish." Lewis, who has seven years prior coaching experience, is hoping his team can also be "goodwill" ambassadors, helping to spread the popularity of football throughout Okinawa and the rest of Japan. "We're going to try and get out to the community and do some exhibitions at some local high schools," said Lewis.

For now, coach Lewis said his Giants need the support of fans and hopefully sponsors. The American Women's Welfare Association has helped the team by supplying uniforms, but they need more. The team has also been forced to piece together equipment, borrowing from Kadena and Kubasaki High School. "I want everyone to come out and support us. If you drive by and see us practicing honk your horn," said Lewis.

If you would like to show your support for the Okinawa Giants either through sponsorship or as a fan, you can contact coach Lewis at 974-4862. The Giants practice every weekday, except Wednesdays, at the field next to Sukoshi Bowl on Kadena from 5p.m. until 7:30 p.m. All inquiries about game times and dates should also be made by contacting Lewis or by keeping an eye out in the Japan Update for announcements.

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