As professional sports team affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake debated whether or how to continue competing amid financial and emotional difficulties, so to did many high school sports teams and amateur sports clubs.
In early May, the ground at Takata High School in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, was littered with basketballs, trophies and awards. The items were collected by volunteers doing recovery work in the area, which was deluged by the March 11 tsunami. Before the disaster struck, the school's girls' basketball team had been scheduled to participate in the Iwate prefectural regionals for a national tournament. But the black waves of the tsunami enveloped the high school up to the third floor and swept away all the basketball gear and wrecked the gymnasium.
Without any equipment, team members feared they would miss the tournament. But after several players sought help on a website, basketball gear from around the nation was sent to them. Nearby Ofunato Higashi High School also let the Takata High School team practice in its gym.
Sixteen-year-old Takata High player Miaki Wakisaka's mother and grandmother died in the tsunami. Her mother had taught Miaki basketball since she was a little girl. She still feels as if her mom and grandma are right there, cheering her on.
"I am so thankful for everyone's help," Miaki said. "I am filled with gratitude and will do my best."
Members of the girls' volleyball team at Haramachi High School in Fukushima Prefecture have been forced to evacuate due to leaking radiation at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The team now practices at Fukushima Prefectural Soma Higashi High School's gymnasium. But five members of the team, including the team's captain and vice captain, have had to transfer to schools in Yamagata and Kanagawa prefectures.
The remaining team members face many difficulties. They have lost their homes and their parents have lost jobs. The school can no longer pay for the team's travels. But they continue playing volleyball because they have a goal of making it to the top eight in the Fukushima prefectural tournament.
If they make it to the top eight, they will become eligible to play in other future tournaments, which would postpone the third-year students' retirement until the fall. And the members are hoping that by fall, radiation levels might decline and the team members who left the prefecture can come back and play together again.
Starting this year, the all-Japan high school championships will be held in numerous regions. This year, it was scheduled to be held in Aomori, Iwate, Akita and Miyagi prefectures starting July 28. But some of the venues have been relocated due to the March 11 disaster.
The yacht competition will be moved from Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, to Yurihonjo, Akita Prefecture. And wrestling matches will be moved from Miyako to Hachimantai, Iwate Prefecture.
There will also be special measures for high schools affected by the disaster. For example, schools located near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant will be exempt from district-level qualifying games in all sports and be able to start from the prefectural-level qualifying games so they can spend more time on practice and preparation.
Meanwhile, other amateur athletes have been left out in the cold due to the cancellation of competitions.
Due to difficulties in securing a venue, Sendai canceled the Hokkaido and Tohoku soccer tournament for mentally disabled players.
Despite this setback, the Ishinomaki ID Sports Club and other organizations are hoping to participate in the national competition even if it means paying out of pocket for travel expenses.
The Iwate prefectural government is also debating whether to host the National Athletic Meet in 2016 as scheduled.
The prefectural government estimates that it will cost 11.8 billion yen to host the event. Iwate Governor Takuya Tasso is hesitant, citing needs to focus on overall recovery efforts in the prefecture. But at a May 20 meeting between the prefectural government and the Iwate Amateur Sports Association, several dozen representatives of sports associations opposed the cancellation or postponement of the event, insisting that the Iwate government should use the National Athletic Meet to power recovery efforts.
In principle, the prefectural government is supposed to inform the Japan Sports Association sometime this month about whether it will host the event. But the prefectural government told JASA that it will take longer to come to a conclusion, and will continue to debate what can best boost recovery efforts.