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【Boccia】Nationwide Boccia Tournament of Special Schools "Boccia Koshien"

The "Boccia Koshien" decides the best Boccia team from Japanese special schools for the physically disabled. The second Boccia Koshien took place on July 21 at the Minato-ku Sports Center. A total of 36 teams participated, greatly outnumbering the first time (18 teams, 22 schools), thanks to the Boccia movement ever since the Japan team won a medal at the Rio Paralympic Games. The competition was held in tournament form, much like the Koshien tournament for high school baseball teams. The scope of the event and level of playing warrants calling it the "Japan Championships for Special Schools."

Tokyo Metropolitan Murayama School for the Physically Disabled becomes champion of 36 teams

The champions, Murayama Phoenixes of the Tokyo Metropolitan Murayama School for the Physically Disabled

The event attracted 38 schools from across the country, from northernmost Hokkaido to Okinawa in the south. The athletes and their performances were more competitive than last year, and also more so than anticipated.

Mitsuteru Murakami, Japan team coach at the Rio Paralympics, commended the playing, saying, "They are much better than Hidetaka Sugimura or Takayuki Hirose at that age." Fumiko Ebisawa, a BC1 class Boccia player who came to watch both the first and second Boccia Koshiens, said, "Many of the schools are putting thought into team strategies, such as the angle of throwing and not just getting the ball close to the target."

In this fierce single-elimination tournament, the two schools that won their ways to the finals, held in the center court, were both first-timers: the "Murayama Phoenixes" of the Tokyo Metropolitan Murayama School for the Physically Disabled and "Brex" of the Aichi Prefecture Komaki School for the Physically Disabled.

The Murayama Phoenixes regularly play Boccia together in their school's club. The team is led by Yutaro Ogawa (first year high school), who was inspired by the Rio Paralympics "Hinotama" Japan team to start a club as a way to play Boccia more. He even participated in the preliminary games for the Japan Championships, and his team members say they came together because of his passion.
Brex is led by Shun Esaki (second year high school), one of the top BC4 class players in Japan who will be playing at the Japan Championships later this year. He formed the team because he wants to make a Boccia club at his school and hoped for a full victory to help in that goal.

Both teams are led by skilled BC4 class players. In the end, the Murayama Phoenixes beat Brex with a score of 3-2. Both teams were constantly out-throwing each other, and taking the ends of their own thrown jack. The Murayama Phoenixes gained three points in the first end, and Brex was only able to get two points in the second end.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Murayama School for the Physically Disabled became the champions of the Second Boccia Koshien.

"I am happy that we were able to perform just like in practice—no, even better than in practice," was a comment from the smiling team captain Hiroto Hagiwara (first year high school). Ogawa said, "There are not many opportunities for special schools to come together and compete." Kazuhiro Kokubo (first year high school) said, "At first I was nervous. I was so tense," but as the class clown he was constantly cheering everyone on. Yuki Ito (third year junior high) says he "only plays Boccia in the school club," but put on a great performance along with the other serious players. The four members utilized their strengths well for this national victory.

"Brex" of Aichi Prefecture Komaki School for the Physically Disabled finished second, "THE Bambies" of Tokyo Metropolitan Shikamoto Gakuen finished third, and Ibaraki Prefecture Shimotsuma Special Needs Education School finished fourth.

Japanese top players Hidetaka Sugimura and Takayuki Hirose during the ceremonial first throws

Esaki leads the second-place team from Aichi Prefecture Komaki School for the Physically Disabled

Showing the possibility of competing at the Tokyo Paralympics and 2021 National Sports Festival for People with Disabilities

The athletes showed a passionate performance.

The event was held not only to determine the best Boccia teams from Japanese special schools, but also to discover potential players for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games. Kuniharu Okuda, president of the Japan Boccia Association, said, "For 2020, we still have time to find new players, so I wanted to watch as many athletes as I could. That is why we had 36 teams participate, even though it was tough on the administrative side." Expert staff members continued to watch the players throughout the tournament.

There were also class divisions in the sub-arena. BC class players were told of the "possibility of playing at the Paralympics," and other class players were told of the "possibility of representing their prefecture at the National Sports Festival for People with Disabilities, which will include Boccia as an official event starting 2021." Okuda said, "I wanted all athletes to realize they have the possibility of playing at the Paralympics and National Sports Festival. I wanted to let them know they can aim for that, to give them a concrete goal."

With the promotion, dissemination and establishment of Boccia in special schools, the event is expected to attract more schools in the future. They may have to put on regional preliminaries and invite only the winning teams to the final event, just like the Koshien of high school baseball. Hirofumi Miura, Chairman of the Executive Committee for the Nationwide Boccia Tournament of Special Schools, said, "Our wish is that the Boccia Koshien gets bigger and bigger." The event will surely help build a foundation for the sport in each region.

The Boccia Koshien helps connect para sports federations and special schools for the physically disabled, and goes beyond the borders of regional and prefectural special schools for the physically disabled. It is a historical event for both para sports and special schools, and the more lively it becomes the more talented Japanese Boccia players it will produce.

Thirty-six teams gathered together, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south.

A great smile after a great throw

text&photos by BOCCIA FAN
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