Alumni celebrate high school’s 50th year with football, feasts at US base in Japan
Stars and Stripes October 2, 2023
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — One hundred Yokota High School alumni walked the campus grounds again this weekend to celebrate 50 years since the school doors first opened at this airlift hub in western Tokyo.
More than 700 students were on the rolls when Yokota High welcomed its first classes in 1973, said William Lee, of San Antonio, who attended the school while his father, an Air Force civil engineer, served in Tokyo from 1973 to 1977. That’s a lot more than the 274 students who attend the school today.
“It was toward the end of the Vietnam War,” Lee recalled Friday evening on the sidelines as the Yokota Panthers football team took on the visiting Mustangs of the American School in Japan. “This base was hopping.”
The homecoming game brought memories flooding back to many alumni.
“Everybody called each other by their last name,” Lee said of his school days.
He recalled playing basketball with a group of kids in the street and stopping when they heard something that sounded like a motorcycle approaching.
“Here came this tiny Honda car,” he recalled, noting that compact Japanese cars were novel on base at that time.
Another alumnus at the game, Cindi Thomas, of Little Rock, Ark., attended Yokota High from 1973 to 1976.
“It was wonderful,” the insurance analyst said. “Everybody hated to go home.”
A former pep club member and gymnast, Thomas recalled baking cakes for the football players and working as a teacher’s aide at the nearby middle school.
Her father, who died last year, was an Air Force combat photographer in Vietnam, she said.
Thomas checked out her family’s former home on the base’s east side during the visit.
“Every time I see something, I think I need to call dad and tell him what I’m seeing,” she said.
During their multiday visit, the alumni ate at the Officer’s Club, attended a school pep rally and toured the high school, which the Department of Defense Education Activity transformed into a “21st Century” school in 2017.
The building — organized into four “neighborhoods” consisting of four studios with movable glass walls — reflects new methods of teaching, valuing collaboration and letting students develop their own ways of learning.
The alumni group presented the school with a football jersey signed by the former students, said Lee, whose job in Texas involves organizing high school football bowl games.
On game night, the 100 alumni — 80 from the U.S. and 20 still living in Japan — formed a human tunnel under the goalposts to cheer the Panthers onto the field.
The Mustangs, rivals since Yokota’s first season, topped the home team that night, 30-15.