By Shokichi Tokita For The North American Post
Haruko (Mom), a football fan? Yes, a football fan.
How so? Well, three of her youngest sons, Yuzo, Masao and Goro all played Little League Football in their younger days, and Haruko went to virtually all their games. They all played for the NVC Fighting Irish under the sponsorship of the Nisei Veteran’s Committee (NVC).
Yuzo played in 1951 with many of his later friends. They were very successful in that they won all of their games under the coaching of Fred Sato, Chuck Kinoshita and Charlie Chihara. They won quite easily and by wide margins. In fact, they won the city championship as well as the state championship which amounted to a total of eight games and proceeded on to the Western Regionals which were held in Las Vegas.
“Futoboru chittomo wakaranakkata. Tachidan dake shite-imashita.”
Yuzo remembers taking the train to Las Vegas. However, while they lost both their games there, they won the inspirational award. The biggest difficulty there was the difference in the physical sizes of the players. They played against teams that were ever so slightly older and heavier than the Little Leaguers in Seattle and in the State of Washington.
Some of the key players at that time were: Dennis Sakamoto, quarterback, Akira Moriguchi and Charlie Mitchell, halfbacks/running backs, Tak Aoki, wide receiver, Hiroshi Hayatsu, lineman, Vic Shinoda, lineman, as well as Yuzo, a lineman. One of their key plays was for Dennis to loft an ultra-high pass way downfield. Tak would “scat” downfield as fast as he could to get under it, gather it in and run for the touchdown. The running game also included Akira and Charlie “gobbling up” a lot of yards on the ground. Mom really enjoyed cheering loudly for the many touchdowns they generated.
Masao and Goro played in the middle and late 1950s under coaches Paul Uno, Jim Suzuki and Hank Jones. Perhaps some of you remember that Jim Suzuki played at the UW.
However, Masao and Goro’s teams were not quite as successful as Yuzo’s. Masao played in 1955 and 1956. When Masao was playing, Goro tagged along to all the practices; so not only did he know the coaches and the players, he also opted to play in 1956, when he qualified age-wise.
Goro played from 1956 to 1958, one year with Masao. Since everyone had to qualify at 65 pounds to play their first year, Goro was too light to qualify. However, the coaches had gotten to know him since he, on many occasions, had participated in their practices with Masao. So, when the participants had to weigh in, Goro had a coach’s shoe pressing on the scale so he could hit 65 pounds.
Goro’s teams did quite well and won all their games during the first two years they played in 1956 and 1957. However, just like Masao’s teams, they lost in the city playoffs both times. Goro played with Ric Tanigawa as quarterback and Larry Matsuda as the running back. Other players included Dave Hoshino, Fred Hirota, Jim Kozu, Roland Yoshida, Luther Rabb and Jerry Yuasa.
The games were played primarily at public playground fields, so there were rarely stands for the spectators watching the games. Evidently, that didn’t deter Haruko from attending the games. She stood on the sidelines, rain or shine, to cheer them on. Haruko attended virtually all the games and cheered lustily whenever the Fighting Irish did well, especially when they scored a touchdown.
Later on, when the Tokita boys were settled down at home to watch a UW football game, she would come by and was always invited to sit and watch the “U-Dub” play.
One day, she stopped, hesitated a moment thinking, and finally stated, “Futoboru chittomo wakaranakkata. Tachidan dake shite-imashita.” (I didn’t understand football at all. I only knew touchdowns!”)
The explanations that were provided her, when she started watching TV games included the reason for four downs, the meaning of “first and ten,” explanation of various offensive plays involving running and passes, the reason for penalties, etc. However, all these made absolutely no sense to her; so in fact, she was, actually quite relieved when her sons no longer played football! She actually had no interest at all in watching football on TV with no sons playing!