It is August 2020 and we should be frantically finalizing divisions, scheduling games, ordering medals and T-shirts, and getting ready for the Nikkei Games basketball tournament at the Pyramid on the campus of Cal State University Long Beach.
It would have had approximately 2,000 players ranging in age from 5 to 69 years old. We would have had more than 1,000 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 co-ed games over two days with at least 500 volunteers and an estimated 6,000 spectators in attendance. We would have distributed over 1,600 medals and awards to 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-place teams. It would have been the largest single-location Nikkei basketball tournament in the country. Unfortunately, that wasn’t meant to be this year.
The Pyramid doors will be closed and the lights off. There will be no games, no squeaking of shoes on the court, no referees and sounds of whistles, no awards ceremonies, and no crowd in the stands cheering on their teams. That is because the 2020 Nikkei Games were cancelled this year for the first time since their inception in 1994.
Perhaps the greater impact is there will be no healthy competition and building life-long friendships. That is the legacy of our forefathers that we have embraced as part of the Nikkei Games. It would have been the 86th year of the Nikkei Games, dating back to 1928 and the original Junior Olympics and its successor in 1952, the Nisei Relays.
The 2020 Nisei Week Festival has also been cancelled and it would have been the 80th year of the festival that began in 1934. The only event to stop the festival in the past was WWII. Obon festivals, pancake breakfasts, golf tournaments and many youth sports programs have been cancelled as well. For the Japanese American community, which is rich in tradition and culture, these cancellations have had a widespread effect on organizations that bring the community together with their annual events, fundraisers and celebrations.
What type of crisis would cause a cancellation of so many events? It took a worldwide pandemic of a virus called COVID-19 or coronavirus that has infected nearly 5 million people in the U.S. and approximately 18 million worldwide. Deaths related to COVID-19 have reached almost 180,000 in the U.S. and about 700,000 around the globe. The first case of coronavirus in the United States was in January in Washington State and the first known death in the country related to COVID-19 was there a month later.
In early March there was hope the Nikkei Games basketball tournament would still take place since it was scheduled for August. Tournament invitation letters and applications were prepared and sent out. However, on March 19, California Gov. Newsom issued a stay-at-home order to combat the increasing spread of the coronavirus. The Pyramid, as part of CSULB, followed his lead and cancelled all scheduled events through August. This was the first indication the Nikkei Games were in jeopardy.
The continued spread of the virus led to further cancellations such as classroom studies, graduations, large gathering events, and all high school, college and professional sporting events. The effect on the airline, travel, hospitality, dining and many other service industries has been devastating. Unemployment in the U.S. reached 17% in a matter of months, rising from a record low of less than 5% in February. That translates to over 30 million Americans without a job.
Concerns about transmission of the virus have led to face masks, physical distancing and contact tracing policies to reduce exposure risk. Companies need to have safety protocols and proper use of personal protective equipment in place in order to reopen their businesses. Unfortunately, slow implementation of risk-mitigating practices throughout the country has led to 34 of 50 states currently reporting record level increases in daily coronavirus cases.
Over 150 possible vaccines are being developed by many companies to battle the virus, but no one knows how long it will take to complete all the trial phases to ensure it is safe. And even after it is ready, how long will it take to produce and distribute the hundreds of millions of doses needed around the world? At this point, we all have to be vigilant in being safe, practicing physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
In the meantime, we have made significant adjustments to our lifestyles. Many people work remotely now and have Zoom or MS Team meetings. We conduct virtual events for large groups.We have birthday and graduation parties via drive-by celebrations. Drive-in movies are making a comeback. We minimize trips to the grocery store and online retail sales are an everyday occurrence. You can even do a virtual test drive, buy a car online, and have it delivered to your home now.
As a Japanese American (JA) community, we are doing our part to keep our families as safe as possible. As mentioned, we have cancelled all events with large gatherings. The JA youth and adult basketball leagues have over 10,000 players and they have not heard a whistle or a horn sound in over four months. We have our share of Zoom meetings to conduct organizational business. We continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation on a regular basis and look for guidance from state and local government bodies, and the CDC and state and county health authorities. And we are watching what schools are doing and whether they will reopen or continue with online classes.
We are also reviewing the guidelines being issued by the CIF Southern Section. Regardless of what decisions and actions are forthcoming in our community, it will be done with safety as the driving force, with the highest priority.
2020 is turning out to be a very challenging and frustrating year for all of us. However, we are resilient and have faith in a brighter future. We have the strength of our families, our community, our traditions and our heritage. We know we will get past this pandemic.
That is why we have scheduled the 2021 Nikkei Games basketball tournament for Aug. 14-15 at the Pyramid. We cannot wait to hear the voice of the Nikkei Games say, “Let the Games begin.”
It is worth noting that since 2000 the Nikkei Games has had over 30,000 players in the basketball tournament. We would like to thank all of them for their continued participation. We would also like to share a very special thank you to the Nikkei Games Basketball Committee and all our volunteers for their years of support and dedication. The Nikkei Games exists only because of all of you!
So, for our community’s sake, we are committed to carrying on the legacy of our forefathers, **“enjoying healthy competition and building life-long friendships.”** Remember our motto, “The Nikkei Games: Games for the Generations!”
We are looking forward to 2021 and the restart of the Nikkei Games! We hope to see you there!
Until then, be safe and be well!
2020 Nikkei Games Basketball Chairperson
Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, PEARL KAMEMOTO, JUN NAGATA and HESTON QUON