Speaking a universal language
- Pamplin Media
- Central Oregonian - Sports
stling coach Tomisha Umeyama probably didn't know what to expect when he signed on to take his team on a two-week tour of Oregon.
Gumna, Japan, the tiny town that most of his wrestlers call home, lies thousands of miles away from our state.
Culturally, this distance is even more.
Few of Umeyama's athletes speak very clear English and he, himself, struggles with the language. Oregon is a state with a landscape as varied as Japan's and traversing such an area can be especially difficult when you don't speak its native tongue.
Umeyama and his band of traveling wrestlers do hold one great advantage, however, in that they speak the universal language of sport - a communication technique that has proven to break down numerous cultural barriers over the years.
"Wrestling is a worldwide sport," said Brian Lemos, vice principal of Crook County High School and an instrumental figure in bringing the Japanese team to town. "It's a lot like soccer. Everyone does it."
Umeyama says that the goal of his team during their stay is to better "understand the collegiate style [of wrestling]."
Japan, like the rest of the world, focuses mainly on freestyle wrestling.
The United States is the only country that competes regularly in "collegiate style" wrestling.
In reality, however, his team is learning much more.
Team members have been bunked with local families for their stay and Thursday morning went to class with the students.
Thursday afternoon was reserved for sight-seeing and the student athletes toured the courthouse and the Les Schwab factory.
The experience has been two-fold as the athletes of two different worlds have been able to bond through their common pastime.
"I got a call from one parent who said they were up to one in the morning visiting with their student the first night," said Lemos. "The students have so far been reacting really well."
Thursday night, the Japanese team and a group of central Oregon wrestlers defined the term friendly dual meet with a seven to seven draw at Crook County High School.
The event was in a many ways a pre-cursors to tonight, when Japan will take on a group of Oregon All-Stars at the Oregon Classic in Redmond. The team is comprised of some of the top prep wrestlers in the state. Representing Crook County will be Ryan Smith, who finished third at the 4A state championships last year at 112 pounds, and Trent Lucas who placed fourth at 152 pounds.
Saturday, the squad will travel to the coast where they will do it all over again with a new batch of high school kids in Tillamahook.
"It's just a positive experience all around," said Lemos. "The most important thing is that it opens their eyes to other parts of the worlds."