Catching Our Breath

[Taylor]

Sports Festival

Last Friday my high school held their annual sports festival.  I think we’ve mentioned attending other school sports festivals in the past (Julie’s junior high and elementary schools, mostly) and this one was very similar.  The student body was divided into four teams — purple, red, green, and yellow.  Each grade has four homerooms so each team was comprised of three homerooms, or about 110 students.

To make sure everyone participates, group competitions and feats of strength are held.  We of course had a tug-o-war but there was also a timed battle to see how many rubber balls a team could throw into a wooden basket on the top of a tall pole.  And, in my favorite event of the afternoon, four students from each team lifted up a fifth teammate off the ground.  The teammate they carried wore a cap and charged at the opposing team who were doing the same thing.  When the two groups met in the middle of the field, the two students supported in the air tried to take off each others’ hats.  The game was repeated several times so that many people could participate.

Individual competitions were also repeated several times.  Although a single 100 m dash produced a single winner, the race was repeated as many as 10 times so that a total of forty students could participate and help their team accumulate points.

There is nothing like this in America.  The complete absence of individual accolades, teams of 100 plus, the formal and traditional greetings, march, and flag presentation before and after the festival — it would never work at a high school in the United States.  There are simply too many cultural differences.

Something else happened that struck me as being different.  During a student’s second and third year of high school, he or she may choose to enter the sports homeroom class.  In order to join you must play sports year round and, consequently, our best athletes belong to these two classes.  The third year student (seniors) sports class was on one of the teams, making them heavy favorites.  Yet they were narrowly beaten at the end by another team, the one featuring the sports team of the second year students (juniors).

In America, the land of the underdog, this would have been cause for celebration, and to be fair, there were a lot of students and teachers celebrating the surprising result.  But to me it felt a little sad and I sensed that in some of the people with me at the time, too.  The sports team was supposed to win.  It’s what they’re known for and they couldn’t quite pull off the victory.  I was reminded of all the episodes of Iron Chef (Japan) that I’ve seen over the years.  Eventually you reach a point with the Japanese version of Iron Chef when you stop cheering for the challengers.  You want the Iron Chef to win because it’s right.  Winning a cooking battle is part of their essence and when they are upset by a challenger, their excellence is called into question.  You want the Iron Chef to win because that’s what they’re supposed to do.  I felt the same way about the team with the senior sports class.

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