THROUGH THE FIRE: Losing Perspective

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By TRISHA MURAKAWA

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I am grateful to those in my family who have paved the way for me and others in the larger community. My great aunt, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, along with Warren Furutani, organized the first pilgrimage to the Manzanar Relocation Center, that is today, a national park and a national historic site.

But there is another person who also played a huge role in paving the way for me as a parent, and my children, as well as for countless Japanese American and Asian American kids in the Southern California area. That person is Hideo Alan Kunitomi, my grandfather.

He was one of a handful of people who founded one of the Japanese American sports programs created to give Japanese American youth a chance to play competitive sports and learn sportsmanship and good life values. He is one of the people who helped create the Community Youth Council, CYC, a basketball league in which my son plays.

Taken straight out of the CYC Web site, what the organization says about its philosophy: “The CYC philosophy has never been about winning but, about friendly competition, sportsmanship, promoting parent involvement, and learning about their cultural heritage, while developing the young boys in its program to grow up to be responsible adults.”

I am so grateful to my grandfather and his friends who started CYC for having the foresight to establish a sports program to teach children how to grow up to be responsible adults.

My son is only in second grade, and he is probably the least skilled player on his basketball team. My husband, who coaches my son’s team, nor I put our son or our daughter in a basketball program with any expectations that they will be skilled enough to make the varsity high school team, college or the NBA, but it seems like some parents do place those expectations on their own children and their children’s teammates.

At more than a few of my son’s basketball games, I’ve heard stories about parents from opposing teams complaining about the (high) skill level of some players on my son’s team and that they should be playing “up”—meaning with older, more skilled kids because “it’s not fair.”

I’ve witnessed other parents and coaches yelling at little kids during games as if they were paid coaches for Division 1 colleges and their players were at least 10 years older than they really are.

A couple weeks ago, after my daughter’s recreation league basketball game, a parent from the opposing team came over to yell at my daughter’s coach. The parent’s complaint was that the girls on my daughter’s team (including my daughter) were “too aggressive” and he accused them of playing dirty.

My take on the upset dad is that he was embarrassed and angry because my daughter’s fourth grade team beat his daughter’s fifth/sixth grade team.

School of Skills Coach Kory Zuniga was at the game too. He gave his business card to that angry yelling dad and told him that he shouldn’t blame the coach or the girls for playing aggressively, but that he should blame him (Kory Zuniga) because half the team attends his basketball program and playing aggressively is part of the game.

My daughter attends Coach Kory’s program too. It’s a wonderful program that I imagine my grandfather would greatly respect and appreciate because of the things it teaches kids:  respect, sportsmanship, teamwork, discipline, perseverance, tenacity, patience, cooperation and leadership.

Coach Kory’s philosophy is that in basketball, as in life, learning The Fundamentals prepares your son or daughter to excel on and off the basketball court.

I like that Coach Kory is teaching my daughter real life skills and using basketball as the vehicle to teach her. She is indeed one of the more aggressive players on the court as is one of her friends. Both my daughter and she are petite and, off the court, may be thought of as sweet Asian American  girls.

What’s important is that these two young girls will need to know how to handle themselves in the workplace when someone tries to do a power trip or take advantage of them as has happened to so many of us who get stereotyped as the “powerless passive petite Asian woman.”

I’m thankful to my daughter’s coaches and Coach Kory for being part of my husband’s and my “village” and helping us teach these real life skills to our daughter.

My grandfather and his friends did not start the CYC league to teach kids only how to win or that winning is the most important goal but I’m certain, by the way they behave, some of these coaches do believe that winning is the top priority.

I too, as a parent, need reminding that I shouldn’t get carried away, be overly competitive and lose sight of the real reasons I put my kids in youth sports. And, unfortunately, I often am reminded of this when I witness the way some coaches yell at their seven-year-old players on the basketball court.

I understand coaches need to garner respect and the attention of their young players but when they yell at these kids in that berating abusive tone, they have to know that only results in resentment and fear and then it becomes nothing more than an adult doing a power trip on a child.

But the worst thing of all—some parents can be really mean. They say hurtful and even racist things about little kids on the basketball court and after the games. I’ve heard remarks like this from parents in the Japanese American leagues as well as the recreation leagues and there is no place for hateful remarks in youth sports.

This is where we adults have lost all perspective.

Youth sports is not about the parents, the coaches or any adults.

Youth sports is not a venue for adults to live vicariously through their kids.

Youth sports is not a place for adults—coaches or parents—to grow their egos.

Youth sports is for fun and friendship and to teach kids about competition, sportsmanship, teamwork, hard work, dedication, commitment, loyalty, grace and humility.

Yes, winning is fun and an ego boost for kids. But after the game, the kids don’t remember all the details about the game, and a day later, they don’t remember if they won or lost—they just want their snacks and they just want to run around and have fun with their friends.

It’s a shame that a very small percentage of the adults involved are the ones whose behavior and words overshadow the vast majority of loving, caring selfless adults—parents, coaches and all the volunteers—who are nurturing and teaching our children how to be responsible adults and to give back to the community.

I’m proud of my children for who they are becoming through the experience they are having in youth sports despite these few bad behaving adults.

But these albeit negative experiences make my kids tough too because they are learning the world is not a nice place.

It’s just disappointing that they are learning this from the bad behavior of a few adults in an environment where they are supposed to learn about sportsmanship.

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Trisha Murakawa is a strategic communications and public affairs consultant based in Redondo Beach. For more information about Coach Kory Zuniga’s School of Skills, visit www.schoolofskills.net. For information about the CYC philosophy, visit www.cycsports.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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1 Comment

  1. Trisha, what can I say? You’ve got the writing skills and yes, definite props for Uncle Hide. He truly did pave the wave for JAs to participate and compete in basketball and baseball. It’s sad that “tradition” is slowly leaving us. Hopefully the yonsei’s, gosei’s will continue the tradition of friendship and sportsmanship in sports!

    You scratch out great articles!

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