NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan (NNS) -- Sometimes events bring people of all walks of life together for a greater purpose. In those moments there are no us or them.
On March 10 Naval Air Facility Atsugi hosted the 8th annual Tomodachi Bowl which featured Team USA All Stars vs. Team Rising Sun of Japan. The game ended with a score of 23-03 in favor of Team USA.
Eight years ago everything in Japan changed. On March 11, 2011, the Tohoku region of Japan was struck by an earthquake and a tsunami. In the aftermath of this tragedy the Japanese and U.S governments came together in humanitarian efforts named Operation Tomodachi.
“We were involved in a football game called the Chameleon Bowl with the Japanese back in 2008, 2009 and then again in 2010,” said Tim Pujol, the head coach of Team USA All Stars. “It was an idea that was developed because a team of American players came over here to play the Japanese under 19 (years old) team as a global tool of diplomacy.”
The game, and spirit under which the inaugural event was played, have continued every year since.
“We decided to continue the game,” said Pujol. “As a nod to the operation that was put in place to try to help the victims of the tsunami. It represents a kind of honoring the great relationship that the United States and Japan have with each other. Both in the military aspect, the relief aspect and the football competitive aspect as well.”
The football game brings together players from different Department of Defense Education Activity Schools in the region to compete against Japanese 1st year university students. The event location rotates yearly as to allow as many individuals from the local communities to participate as possible.
“They love football, so this is an opportunity to celebrate friendship and also to have a nice competition,” said Pujol. “We remind them why we play. First thing I do at our first practice is to tell the story of exactly how this came to be. So, they understand that they're a part of something important that goes beyond competition. We also point out that it is an opportunity to make some new friends and to interface with their host nation in a different kind of way. It's quite an honor for them to be selected to represent their schools at this event because you've got hundreds of football players in the Pacific and here we have 45 kids that are the best of what we have.”
The global language of sports also has the ability to cross cultures, thus enabling sports-related programs to overcome social and ethnic divides within communities.
“It is indicative about kids and military kids,” said Jacob Dowdell, the defensive line coach of Team USA. “You know, when that earthquake happened here in Japan, there were no Japanese and there were no Americans. It was people who were in trouble. And so, Japanese, American, all that went out the window. Everyone came together to work. You tried to help everybody get back on their feet and save lives.”
“Even though we were combatants on the field, we had good sportsmanship,” said Dowdell. “Just like the history of our two countries, sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to work out, but you have to work through them together. And, the sense of friendship that was built today will last a long time.”
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