US, Japanese players to renew football friendship
By all standards, it’s just an exhibition game between American and Japanese high school players. But given the attention it’s receiving from U.S. and local media, pomp, pageantry and a guest list that reads like an inauguration, Sunday’s Tomodachi Bowl is starting to take on a Super Bowl-like appearance.
Players from Yokota, Zama American, Nile C. Kinnick and American School In Japan, plus Kadena and Kubasaki on Okinawa, and Seoul American will tee it up in the Tomodachi Bowl at Yokota High’s Bonk Field, including some of the DODDS Pacific’s finest American running backs and linemen.
Kickoff is at 2 p.m. but the festivities begin at 11 a.m. with games featuring elementary and junior-high players, followed by VIP appearances and addresses, anthems, ceremonial coin toss and, finally, the game itself.
“It’s really exciting,” said Tim Pujol, coach of two-time Far East Division I champion Yokota, head coach of Team USA and the guy who spearheaded preparation for the event, for which a crowd of more than 2,000 is expected.
“It’s unfathomable that it has evolved into such a big thing. I hope it grows bigger in the future. I want it to be bigger and more competitive.”
Competitive the first versions of the Tomodachi Bowl were not. Team USA routed a combination of four Kanagawa High School teams 61-0 in the Camellia Bowl in March 2010 at Kawasaki Stadium. Two Japanese teams managed 17 points in last year’s Tomodachi Bowl, but still lost 50-17 at Yokosuka Naval Base.
The game was renamed from Camellia to Tomodachi, which is Japanese for friendship, and is symbolic of the aid and comfort provided by American servicemembers to Japan’s Tohoku region following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The second Camellia Bowl, scheduled for March 12, 2011, was canceled.
Some 800 Japanese spectators are expected to join more than 1,000 Americans at Sunday’s renewal. The game will be broadcast on AFN Tokyo and streamed live on High School Cube.com and over the DODDS Pacific Far East Streamcasting Network.
Among the dignitaries expected are U.S. Ambassador to Japan John V. Roos, former Japanese prime minister Taro Aso and Yokota’s 374th Airlift Wing commander Col. Mark R. August. Yokota High’s junior ROTC color guard will post the flags and the Air Force Band of the Pacific will play the anthems.
Pujol said to expect a much more competitive game this time around. The two Japanese schools comprising Team Kanto are affiliated with Waseda and Hosei Universities, part of the Tokyo Big Six league that first began playing American football in 1934.
“This will be the football game we’ve all been waiting for,” Pujol said. “This may be the year that Team Japan will take home the trophy.”
Elsewhere, spring sports league play begins in Japan, Okinawa and Korea with an abbreviated schedule, highlighted by reigning Far East Division I softball champion and runner-up Kadena visiting Kubasaki at noon Saturday. Kadena’s two-time D-I runner-up baseball team also visits 2010 champion Kubasaki.
A full slate of Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Five-Cities Division soccer matches is on tap, while E.J. King and Matthew C. Perry’s boys are off to Kobe for a Western Japan Athletic Association weekend series. Perry’s girls host a quad-meet featuring E.J. King this weekend.
Back to the diamonds, DODDS Japan baseball and softball weekend tripleheaders at Matthew C. Perry, Zama and E.J. King. Guam’s girls softball season ends with Okkodo visiting Guam High.