The Aki Komai Memorial Awards Committee announced that it will honor four individuals for their contributions to the Japanese American community sports programs and will recognize Tets Tanimoto as one its Founders at the 6th NAU Reunion on Sunday, Sept. 20, beginning at 2 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. Tickets are $10.
The 2009 Aki Komai Memorial Award recipients are Jesse James, Al Morita, Chester Tadakawa and Dave Yanai. Each was chosen for emulating the work of Komai, the post-war publisher of The Rafu Shimpo and the founder of the Nisei Athletic Union (NAU) in 1947. Known to many readers as “The Maestro”, Komai provided coverage of Nikkei community sports in his newspaper and got NAU on its feet in the days when Japanese Americans were restarting their lives after their unconstitutional incarceration during World War II.
Jesse James is the driving force behind the annual Nikkei Games, which brings together members of the community to participate in a variety of sports. Al Morita has gone through the process of obtaining permission to use baseball fields and basketball gymnasiums for youth sports and NAU. He and his son Gerald made the contacts to run the Las Vegas Basketball Tournament. Chester Tadakawa has overseen the growth of the Tigers Youth Club, including the expansion of its annual basketball tournament over the Memorial Day Weekend as the largest event of its kind in the state. Dave Yanai coached successfully at the high school and collegiate level, while mentoring younger Nikkei coaches and helping to build the original Friends of Richard (FOR) Club.
Tets Tanimoto, who played collegiate basketball at Cal State Los Angeles, and for the perennial NAU AA champion Lords in the 1960s, was one of instigators of the Aki Komai Awards. In 1999, the Aki Komai Memorial Awards Committee was formed to honor the memory of the Maestro. Tanimoto and Yanai had suggested that something be done in the memory of the former Rafu publisher.
The inaugural 2000 Aki Komai Memorial Awards were presented to Sam Adachi (NAU Baseball), Mas Fukai (Friends of Richard Club), the late Seiji Isomoto (Lakers), Dave Komatsu (Tigers), Duke Llewellyn (Los Angeles Athletic Club), Mits Sakaniwa (So. Calif. Women’s Athletic Union) and Kenji Taniguchi (Japanese American Optimists, CYC). In 2001, the honorees were Misa Fujisawa (Imperials), Harry Honda (original NAU Board member), the late Yoichi Hosozawa (Hollywood Dodgers), Dr. William J. Johnston (former Superintendent, LAUSD) and George “Slim” Sugiyama (Tigers).
The 2002 honorees included Dan Kawahara (Tigers), Paul Suzuki (CYC), Tad Tanabe (Los Angeles Parks and Recreation), Hiro Taniyama (SCWAU), Bob Wada (SEYO) and Joe Yamagawa (CYC). The 2003 recipients were Yosh Hirai (Community Youth Council), Ed Kikuchi (pioneering sports official, Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple), Amy Miyakawa (Southern California Women’s Athletic Union), Edward Takahashi (SCWAU, Japanese American Optimist, sports official) and the late Mas Umemoto (Nisei Athletic Union Commissioner).
In 2005, awards were presented to Marutama Kamakobo, and Ed and Sue Kamiyama, two familiar figures to those involved in the Southern California Japanese American sports scene. Both participated as players and as coaches. Sue was well known as the athletic director of Bell High School and Ed served as the basketball coach. Ed and Edward Takahashi organized a group of basketball officials who were assigned to the Nikkei leagues. Sue passed away in 2004, but Ed remains involved with community sports. Marutama Kamaboko was a prominent sponsor of Japanese American sports in the 1970s and 1980s. It became the primary sponsor of a prominent local Japanese American boys high school tournament and the company also supported the Southern California bowling leagues as well.
Besides the awards, the NAU Reunion has provided an opportunity to participants and former participants to see former teammates and competitors after years of separation. Many times, upon retiring, individuals lose track with their acquaintances. The NAU Reunion has become the occasion for everyone to get back together again.
As part of the ceremonies, formal recognition will be given to Freeman Beale, representing a new generation of basketball officials who work community sports leagues. In 2005, certain game officials who began working games for the Japanese American leagues 30-40 years were recognized. In the early post-war years, finding game officials was a challenge for Komai. The influx of high-quality officials changed the caliber of the leagues.
The Aki Komai Memorial Awards Committee produces a commemorative program each year, profiling the awardees. It is also an opportunity for friends and family to salute the honorees with ads in the booklet. Sponsorships are available for $1,000 (Hall of Fame), $500 (MVP), All Star ($300) and Team Player ($100).
Checks should be made out to the Japanese American National Museum-Aki Komai Memorial Fund. The National Museum is acting as the Fiscal Agent. All donations are tax deductible. For more information, please contact Florence Ochi at (213) 706-8229 or e-mail [email protected]; or Chris Komai at (213) 830-5648 or e-mail [email protected].