Junior high school sports
After 6th grade finished, we entered junior high school, which abutted to the elementary school. Children from two other elementary schools in the area joined the same junior high school. They took the bus from further north, where there were small ski resorts. The district was also famous for onsen, and many residents ran the business for tourists, including ryokan, souvenir shops, and gas stations.
As the number of children increased, we were split into two classes. Izumi, Kei, and I prayed to be in the same class, but only Izumi was placed in a different class. We were disappointed, but we tried to remain as close to each other as before.
In junior high school, all students had to play sports. For girls, the option was between softball, volleyball, and table tennis, and for boys, baseball, soccer, and table tennis. I chose softball because my sister also played softball a few years earlier. Also, table tennis was for those who were less athletic, and the girls in the softball team tended to be less mean-spirited than those in the volleyball team. Kei joined the softball team with me, but Izumi chose volleyball.
As the first grade, as soon as the last lesson ended, we had to prepare the equipment before the second and the third-grade girls arrived. Once practice started, we were in the back of the field, collecting balls and shouting “nice!” to the hits and catches of the older girls. After the practice finished at around 6 pm, older girls left immediately, while the first-grade girls stored the equipment back and raked the ground. I then walked about 30 minutes home, had dinner, and did homework before going to bed.
The math teacher, Mr. Watanabe, was the coach. He played in a softball league and had an umpire license. I knew he saw me as an insignificant member with little hope of becoming a star, while quickly laid eyes on Kei and Hikari, who were larger-framed and muscly, as well as Mika, who was little but quick.
Naturally, the drudgery and insignificance made me hate the sport. I had never played softball before nor had much interest in it. I was short and small-framed, and I had already given up the idea of ever becoming adept at any sports, including skiing, which I once enjoyed.
How did teachers expect kids to study for three hours after playing sports for three hours? We practiced five days a week plus weekends. I only kept up with study because I preserved energy while practicing – not chasing ball unnecessarily. But grown-ups, to this day, insist on the tremendous positive effect of sports on youths. In reality, it made my life miserable and was depriving me of time to read and study.
The last game for the third-grade girls was held in June. After this, they left the team to focus on their study for the high school entrance exam. 1st-grade girls finally started to learn how to throw, catch and hit balls. Kei and Hikari quickly gained muscle memory and threw balls comfortably. I, on the other hand, had no sense of direction when it came to throwing balls. Kei and Hikari were also good at hitting, while when I swung the bat, my whole body turned 360 degrees, with the ball in the catcher’s mitt.
I told Mr. Watanabe that I hated it, not softball itself but the compulsory aspect of the sports program. He said I’d understand the joy of it eventually. Other girls looked at me incredulously, shocked by my audacity to speak my truth.