From the Stars and Stripes archives

Sumo wrestlers take on Yokota

Schoolkids square off against sumo wrestlers at Yokota Air Base in October, 1986.


By SUE PALUMBO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 20, 1986

YOKOTA AB, Japan — Sumo wrestlers from the Isegahama Stable in Tokyo invaded Yokota's elementary and high schools Wednesday.

Dressed in traditional garb, the 22 wrestlers revealed a few of their moves and then invited children and teachers to a duel.

Although not completely convinced that it was not all a setup, 9-year-old Tanya Lassiter, a fourth-grade student at Yokota West Elementary School, said she still thought it was pretty exciting.

"My favorite part was when the principal (Scarlett Rehrig) went out to fight." In a roar of cheers and laughter, the petite Rehrig managed to bring down her massive opponent at least once.

The hand-to-hand combat with the pint-sized competitors showed a side of the wrestlers not usually seen on television. Child after child dove in. for the attack. The wrestlers good naturedly twirled, nudged and even played catch with their tiny opponents.

"The American children get so excited and seem to enjoy the demonstrations more than the Japanese children," said Wakasegawa, a juryo (second-division) wrestler.

IT WAS THE SECOND time the grapplers have visited the schools. Takashi Suyama, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools intercultural coordinator for Japan, said these visits are rare — even in Japanese schools.

"We invite them because the children really like them and it gives them a chance to see traditional Japanese sportsmen," Suyama said.

The chance to rub elbows with the wrestlers convinced 10-year-old Clifford Pringle that maybe these guys were not so tough after all.

"I was kind of scared at first. But these guys don't look so mean when they aren't on TV," the Yokota West fifth grader said, adding that when he grows up, he might like to be a sumo wrestler.

"I'd have to think about it some more first," he said.

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