All-Star tradition makes return
Camp Zama played host to the Tomodachi Bowl — or Friendship Bowl — an all-star game that pitted the best football players from American high schools in Japan against the best from Japanese schools.
The game, formerly called the Kanto Plain All-Star Game, has been held off and on since the 1970s and was last played in 2004.
The long layoff was due to the game’s past organizers leaving the area and the game’s date interfering with the American teams’ playoff schedules, said Paul Horlacher, an assistant coach at Zama High School.
"I heard about [the game] late last year, actually," said Horlacher, who orchestrated the game’s resurgence.
"Our track coach mentioned it, and I ran with it. Both communities have been really, really in favor of it and supportive of it. It’s been really fun to bring it together."
The Japanese team was made up of players from Kamitsuruma and Yokohama Nanryo high schools.
The American all stars were comprised of Kinnick High School and Zama High School players. Other American schools’ post-season schedules made it impossible for them to participate.
Horlacher said the Japanese teams’ entire season format is that of a single elimination playoff system. The first game they lose is their last game of the season.
"That’s why they’re all so eager to play against American schools, because it gives them a couple of extra games," said Horlacher.
Sophomore Bryan Smith, linebacker for the Kinnick High School team, said the Japanese are usually smaller and quicker, but they are just regular football players.
"If you make a big hit during the game, they’ll get mad," Smith said. "They’re humans too. They’re competitive."
Spectators at the game were treated to a half-time show by the Mercury Winds marching band from Ryohoku Junior High in Ayase City.
The band competes in more than 70 competitions a year and practices twice a day, seven days a week.
And the crowd apparently enjoyed the show.
"I was very impressed. It was more like a college performance than a junior high school performance," said Dawn Spurling. "It was like something you would see on TV."
Spurling, who was there as a football fan, said she thought the game was a good way for the American players to come together.
"All season, they’re competing against each other, and now — here at the end — they can all pull together and compete against somebody else," she observed. "I’ve never seen this. I think it’s really good."
The American all stars set the tone early by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown. They never looked back and went on to win, 57-20.
Players from both sides stayed after the game to pose for group photos, and they shared a bite to eat with the marching band.
"This is such a good event. I think they should do this every year," said Leroy Williams, who watched the game from the stands. "It makes the Japanese and Americans even closer. You can see the camaraderie; it just strengthens the friendship that we have with them."