The gymnasium complex at Bell High School is renamed after its late athletic director, Susan Kamiyama.
By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
rafu sports editor
BELL.–Nearly every seat in the Bell High School auditorium was filled on an early Saturday morning April 18, with the building and outside courtyard adorned with streamers and balloons in the school colors of purple and gold. The cheerleading squad performed to the Bell fight song, but there was no pep rally or stage play taking place.
The facility was filled with family, friends, former co-workers and students, who had gathered to dedicate and rename the school’s gleaming, remodeled gymna¬sium complex after their late athletic director and one of the most influential athletic administrators ever to serve at the state level, Sue Kamiyama.
Kamiyama was also a teacher and coach at Bell from 1974 until 2004, when she succumbed to cancer after a long and tenacious battle at the age of 54. The west wall of the Susan Kaoru Kamiyama Gymnasium Complex is hung with a plaque that bears her photo and the newly resurfaced and repainted gym floor in inscribed with her name.
During the dedication ceremony, a host of school and district officials, city leaders and state athletic representa¬tives recalled the woman who championed hard work and equality in all aspects of education, particularly in sports, a living example of Bell’s school motto, “Honor lies in honest toil.” She was the rules committee chairperson for the Los Angeles City Section for 15 years and served on a number of committees for the California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees athletics statewide.
Roger Blake, associate director of CIF, said the naming of the complex should serve as an important inspiration for future students as they enter the gym.
“I hope that they’ll see the plaque and they’ll want to learn a little bit more about this remarkable woman and what she meant to Bell High School and to kids across the state of California,” Blake commented.
“They name gyms and fields and arenas usually after people who contribute a lot of money or who have won a lot of championships,” Fiege said. “To me, this honor is because of the numerous contributions Sue gave as a person. She contributed as a teacher, a coach, a mentor to many. She truly wanted the Eagles to soar. She wanted everyone to be better.”
The nearly four-year effort to rename the complex after Kamiyama began with and was seen to fruition by her longtime friend, Janet Spurlock. As a teacher fresh out of college at Dorsey High in 1965, Spurlock met Kamiyama–then a junior–and knew immediately that this motivated girl was out of the ordinary. On the second day of the school year, Kamiyama and several other girls approached the new teacher with a request that she be the sponsor of their girls’ swim team.
“I looked at them and said that I don’t really know that much about competitive swimming,” Spurlock recalled. “Sue popped right up and said, ‘I’ll help you, we’ll teach you what you need to know. Just agree to be our sponsor.’”
She agreed, without knowing the hardships that would be involved. In those days, girls sports were not given anywhere near the respect– nor funding–as boys’ athletics. They were considered more recreational, a reason to let the young ladies get out and run around every now and then.
Fully aware of the lack of structure for girls’ sports, Kamiyama and her team organized swim meets against other schools’ girls, at public parks, and often at their own expense.
“She always made sure that girls had a fair opportunity,” Spurlock said, noting that Kamiyama continued the goal of equality and excellence in youth sports for the rest of her life, from serving on athletic boards at the state and local levels to fighting for the passage of Title IX rules.
Well known for her competi¬tive nature, Kamiyama was as well known for her insistence on fairness. As an example, at a track meet one spring, an athlete was slightly injured and it was discovered that he hadn’t completed the required emergency information card. Following the rules to the letter, Kamiyama had the entire track team forfeit the meet, as required by district rules.
Yonsei Basketball Association president David Teragawa delivered letters drafted for the occasion by California State Superintendent Jack O’Connell and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“California’s school system is proud to be home to extraordinary individuals who are dedicated to the success of our young people, and Sue Kamiyama is one of these amazing people,” Schwarzenneger wrote. “Her passion for assisting our young remains an inspiration to many and this facility will long stand as a testament to her legacy.”
Kamiyama’s husband, Ed, taught at Bell for 12 years and is currently the athletic director at Gardena High School. Publicly, the 63-year-old has been doing his best to provide a source of strength and stability, as the father of his kids who have lost their mother. Speaking on stage in the Bell audito¬rium, he bared the shattered heart of a man who has lost the woman who meant the world to him.
Laboring to keep his composure, Ed humbly and quietly thanked those in attendance for their efforts and support.
“You’ve all been part of our lives. The school’s been a pert of our lives,” he said. “It’s been a great life for me and my kids, but the the last four years have been really sad without her.”
The couple’s three children– Darin, Steven and Lauren–each made brief comments and expressed grati¬tude for those who worked on the renaming project. All three continued to be involved in coaching youth basketball, prompting former Bell teacher Perry Di Massa to assure the audience, “The Kamiyama coaching legacy should be good for at least another 40 years.”
The extended family in attendance included the two grandmothers, Kayo Wada and Masako Kamiyama.
A video presentation at the start of the ceremony included several clips of Sue Kamiyama, during some of which she directly addressed those who she seemingly knew she was going to leave behind.
With the steady frankness of an experienced coach, she said at one point, “Have a wonderful life and do your best at everything you try to do.”