MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan --
Being in the military brings with it several requirements, one of those being a constant change of homes. It can be difficult for military children to establish lasting friendships, especially outside the continental United States. With the beginning of spring sports at Matthew C. Perry Schools aboard Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, high school athletes have many opportunities to venture out and meet new people.
“These kids are all part of military families, they are used to people coming and going in their lives. Sports give them a kind of branch to hang on to no matter where they go,” said Richard Peterson, a coach with M. C. Perry. “Their parents might be deployed somewhere, so they might be feeling lonely. When they get on the bus, they get to be with their team family and when they get to another base, they could meet an old friend.”
Having considerably less schools than stateside sports pools, Department of Defense Education Activities schools play each other many times. This, coupled with the possibility that students can play multiple sports, means that certain students could become well acquainted with athletes from other DODEA schools.
“Not only are these girls competitors, they’re best friends,” said Peterson. “Last night, when my daughter got hit by a pitch, she was hurting really badly. When she was on second base, it was the second basemen who was rubbing her back and asking, ‘are you ok?’”
In the United States, relationships between different schools and their sports teams is rarely as strong as they are in an OCONUS setting.
“In the states, you know people by roster number or you might know them by reputation,” said Peterson. “At the high school level; you come in on a bus, you get off the bus, you warm up on your side and they warm up on their side, you play the game, you shake hands, you get back on your bus, and then you go back to your school. I’m from Texas and one of our opponents was about 120 miles away. If we stayed in their town for more than 45 minutes after a game, that was a strange thing.”
Having coached football and track in CONUS schools, Peterson said that coaching for a DoDEA school has changed his perspective. He mentioned that his players tend to hold less negative feelings about a game in comparison to coaches and adults who were brought up with a stateside sports mentality.
While some people may assume that changing schools so often could limit a student’s chance at building relationships, Mandolyn Peterson, an M. C. Perry High School senior and softball team captain, said that even though they don’t go to the same schools, she knows most of the players from other teams.
“Sports bring bases together. When you know people from other bases, you can build better friendships,” said Mandolyn. “There are people who I’ve stayed in contact with, even when they move to another base.”
Mandolyn also mentioned that participating in sports gives students an opportunity to travel and see different parts of the country. Being in Japan gives high school students who participate in sports a rare opportunity most students don’t get.