A Teacher to Champions
By Daniel J. Stone, Assistant Language Teacher, Saitama, 2004-2007
I first caught the international “bug” when Los Angeles hosted the Olympic Games in 1984. It was around that time that I began playing football for a local Pop Warner league. Nearly twenty years later, two of my passions collided: I was on the other side of the world teaching English in Japan – to junior high athletes who competed for the Little League World Series Championship.
During my last summer on the JET Program, I was channel surfing in my tatami-matted apartment in Kawaguchi, Saitama. Every other station, it seemed, was covering high school baseball.
I came across a baseball game featuring a group of pint-sized boys playing in America and put down my remote. The program was in English and as it broke for a commercial break, the box scores flashed across the screen. The first team was in katakana – “Curacao.” The second team was in kanji – it looked like Kawaguchi.
Late in the game, an outfielder on the Kawaguchi team sent a rocket over the heads of the second baseman and pitcher, allowing the catcher to field the ball and successfully end the game. The announcer commented, “I haven’t seen a throw like that since the last time I saw Ichiro play!” I later confirmed that Kawaguchi was representing Japan and Asia in the annual Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
For the next week, I followed Kawaguchi as they played against teams from Russia, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. Each time a player from the Kawaguchi squad was at bat, I wondered which school he attended. After two years of working at junior high schools in Kawaguchi, I was disappointed that I couldn’t recognize the boys that I taught –and played baseball with after school – on TV.
Kawaguchi advanced to the championship game but lost to the American champions, 2-1. I watched as the boy who made the Ichiro-like throw lead his teammates as they squatted on the infield and picked up dirt from the hallowed field to take back to Japan.
I entered my 3rd and final year on JET that fall, reporting to my new school, Kawaguchi’s Kita JHS. The first lesson was my self-introduction and I told the students of my travels. I asked the class if anyone had ever been to America. One boy raised his hand and the Japanese Teacher of English informed me that he went there over the summer. I looked at the boy and realized that he was the young player I saw on TV. I walked over to him and said hokori ni omou. (“I’m proud of you.”) After class, I told the boy that I saw him on TV. It’s common for junior high students to ask their international English teachers for their autograph with the phrase: “Give me you sign!” This time, I did the asking. The boy wrote his name in hiragana with his friends looking on in amazement. He ran back to his classroom – head held high, and with a big smile on his face.
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