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Misawa Students play Soccer in Sendai
U.S. Air Force Col. Sam Shaneyfelt, 35th Operations Group commander, warms up with Japanese children before a game at Sendai, Japan, April 1, 2012. Fourteen children from Misawa Air Base were invited to play in a joint-youth soccer game against Japanese children from Sendai to commemorate the centennial of the Japanese gift of more than 3,000 cherry trees to the United States in 1912. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Son Lee/Released)
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Misawa Students play Soccer in Sendai

Posted 4/4/2012   Updated 4/4/2012 Email story   Print story


by 1st Lt Cammie Quinn
35 Fighter Wing, public affairs

4/4/2012 - MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- The City of Sendai extended an invitation for American elementary school students from Misawa Air Base to participate in a Japan-U.S. soccer exchange in Sendai City, April 1.

Language barriers were surmounted and friendships born during a joint soccer game between American and Japanese children in Japan.

"The idea is for the children's game to parallel a game between the Japanese and American women's professional teams," Hitoshi Takeda, Sendai City culture and sports director said. "It is important for the two countries to come together and succeed as one team, especially following reconstruction caused by last year's tsunami."

Children from the Sendai City and Misawa Air Base youth soccer teams played two 15-minute halves. During the first half, Japanese and American teams challenged each other. For the second half, the director suggested a change.

Takeda integrated the Japanese and American children teams, allowing children to play alongside their peers.

A language barrier was a challenge which the children overcame quickly, Daniel Hershey, Misawa youth head coach, said.

"The Japanese and American children didn't share a word besides 'offense' and 'defense,' and used their nonverbal communication to play the game," Hershey said. "Even though they couldn't communicate as they normally would, they were able to play and figure out it out as the game went on."

The soccer players said initially the game was confusing and intimidating, but soon the sides developed their own method of communication.

"We'd say 'Hai! Hai!' or 'Go! Go!' while passing the ball to each other," Payton McDaniel, Sollars Elementary school student said. "It's the universal language of soccer."

Following the game, Misawa soccer stars were hosted to a professional game between the Japanese and American women's national soccer teams. The game ended in a tie, with Alex Morgan balancing the score during the later part of the second half of the game.
During the centennial celebration of the Japanese gift of more than 3,000 cherry trees to the United States, Morgan played side-by-side with other American soccer professionals, Hope Solo and Amy LePeilbet.

The dual games promote sports diplomacy which Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State's vision of smart power, says embraces the full range of diplomatic tools. The Japanese-hosted game brought children and professionals from two nations together to foster a greater understanding through a shared love of sports.

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