Tomodachi Bowl to be broadcast live March 12
Time: Mar. 12, 1:15 p.m. – end of the game (game kicks off at 1:30 p.m.)
Program and URL: Football TV (College Football Internet Program) (www.football-tv.jp/)
English-speaking announcer/commentator provide live reporting throughout the game.
Note: Although the website runs in Japanese, a live TV screen will automatically pop up at 1 p.m. on the day and start broadcasting the game.
High school student-athletes generally play football in the fall, but on the second Sunday of March, fans of Americans and Japanese players can expect some solid competition and plenty of after-game camaraderie in the latest renewal of a game whose name symbolizes friendship.
The sixth Tomodachi Bowl is scheduled for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff on March 12 at Amino Vital Stadium in Tokyo’s western suburbs, a sister venue to the much larger Ajinomoto Stadium just off Koshu Kaido (Route 20) in the suburban city of Chofu.
Team USA, which holds a 4-1 record in the series, will bring 32 players from high schools in Japan, Okinawa, South Korea and, for the first time, Guam. Team USA will face Team Rising Sun, comprised of 55 of Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture’s finest senior high school and first-year collegiate players.
While an exhibition game on the face of it, the Tomodachi Bowl’s roots go far deeper. The bowl is the brainchild of the Kanto Football Coaches Association, which in 2009 approached longtime coach Tim Pujol of Yokota High School about putting together a team of American gridders to play their Japanese counterparts. Also at the heart of the Tomodachi Bowl’s foundation were former Japanese prime minister Taro Aso and then-U.S. ambassador to Japan John Roos.
The two previous years, Japanese U-19 college players went against high school-aged players from 10 states under the name Global Challenge Bowl, played at Kawasaki Stadium. That changed in March 2010, when Team Rising Sun took on players from Yokota, Zama American and Nile C. Kinnick High Schools, plus the American School In Japan, in a game called the Camellia Bowl, the camellia being Kawasaki City’s official flower. Team USA won 61-0 over a group of players from Japanese high school teams.
They were to play again on March 12, 2011, but that game was canceled in the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and the ensuing tsunami that devastated Japan’s northeast coast.
Officials on both sides hoped to continue the contest, but it was renamed Tomodachi, commemorating the partnership between American and Japanese militaries during Operation Tomodachi, which helped the Tohoku region rebuild and restore.
Thus began the Tomodachi Bowl series, which saw Team USA start bringing in players from Okinawa and later Korea, and win by one-sided margins, 50-17, 57-21 and 68-13 in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The Japanese then changed the format for selecting players, holding a combine for 175 first- and second-year college players, out of which 55 were kept for Team Rising Sun. The game was played for the first time at Amino Vital on March 8, 2015, and the Japanese were finally victorious, 100-22 over the outmatched Americans.
Again, the Japanese altered their selection format, still doing a combine, but for high school seniors and first-year college players. They practiced over five weekends, while the Americans, bonded together quickly, had just three practices over an 18-hour span. On March 13 of last year, Team USA rebounded to beat Team Rising Sun 26-6, the closest Tomodachi or Camellia Bowl to date.
“It has been my pleasure to be a part of the organizing committee for this game which we love so dearly,” Pujol said. “American football has a long and rich history in Japan as well as the United States, and we all expect a competitive and exciting game this year between these two great teams.”
Competition between American and Japanese football teams at the high school level dates back to the 1970s, when Yokota would annually host a Kanto Plain All-Star game featuring ASIJ, Zama, Yokota and Kinnick players against the Tokyo-area’s best. Kinnick and Zama also collaborated on an annual game at Yokosuka against the finest from Kanagawa.
And military teams for decades have played against their Japanese adult counterparts. For several years in the 1990s, the Yokota Raiders were members of the Grandheights Club League in the Japan National Football Federation, and won the 1995 club national championship. The old Yokosuka Greyhawks, from their formation in 1975 until their demise in 1999, played a full spring schedule against Japanese clubs. Today, the Yokosuka Seahawks base varsity team – the only interservice team left in mainland Japan – plays a spring schedule against Japan’s top-tier X-League semi-pro teams.
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