Tournament builds friendships
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa, Japan -- Service members, civilian employees and their families commonly experience local culture while stationed in Okinawa by visiting tourist and historic sites throughout the prefecture.
However, the hardwood floors of the basketball court can provide the same opportunity to build friendships as the castles and street festivals of Okinawa.
Four Okinawan and two American high school boys and girls basketball teams competed in the seventh annual Okinawan-American Friendship Basketball Tournament Jan. 26-27 at Risner Gym on Kadena Air Base.
“The purpose of the tournament is to encourage cultural awareness and friendship through sports,” said Frederick Bales, the tournament director and athletic director at Kubasaki High School. “It provides an opportunity for a large group of young people to communicate for a weekend through the language of basketball, which they all speak.
“These young people’s lives will be permanently and positively impacted by their experiences at this tournament.”
Children of military families aside, there are relatively few high school-aged students who can say they played in an international sports tournament, let alone that they lived in another country, according to John R. Fick, the head basketball coach at Kubasaki High School.
“It’s a great tournament for all the kids playing,” said Fick. “Although Okinawa culture classes are taught in the classroom, events like this tournament are much better because the kids get to experience it firsthand.”
Even though the tournament is highly competitive, the players relish the opportunity to learn about each other and develop friendships.
“I was amazed with how tall and strong the American players were,” said Kan Saisho, a 16-year-old freshman and the team captain for the Konan High School boy’s varsity basketball team. “In Okinawa, we don’t always get to play teams like this.”
The Okinawa high school teams sometimes travel to mainland Japan for competition, so this tournament is always a good opportunity to compete and improve, according to Saisho.
When the final whistle blew, it was the Kadena High School boys and girls teams that brought home the first-place trophies.
It was interesting to compare the teams’ styles of play and get to know the opposing players, according to Saisho.
“I made some friends from the American teams, and it was fun hanging out with them when we weren’t playing,” said Saisho. “It was a great tournament, and I look forward to participating again.”