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Tokiwagi players from Japan have a place to stay when they’re here to play

07/14/2013, 2:15pm CDT
By Ryan Lund

Pam and Jack Webb have made something of a name for themselves at Schwan’s USA CUP.

But while a number of tournament veterans have earned a reputation for scoring goals or volunteering their time, the Webb family has done their part in a different way.

Tokiwagi Gauken downed Minnesota Thunder Academy 5-0 on Sunday afternoon, taking home the U16 girls' Super Elite title.

Year in and year out, the couple has hosted teams from Japanese High School Tokiwagi Gauken, opening their home to a team that travels nearly 6,000 miles every few years to compete in the tournament.

“My daughter was playing soccer with her high school teams [at USA CUP], and the coach saw this opportunity that we could host, so we became involved with that,” said Pam.  “It was really fun that first year as the girls got in contact with each other.”

Pam’s daughter Jackie recalls her early experiences with the girls of Tokiwagi fondly.

“They start off very shy and unsure of their speaking abilities,” she said.  “As they get to know you, they warm up and it’s just a blast.”

Jackie has interacted with several generations of Tokiwagi players, and enjoys the experience every time.

“You get through all of the language differences and the cultural differences, and by the end of the week they’re family,” she says.

Tokiwagi has been returning to USA CUP ever since, and just as the high-flying Japanese soccer team continues to return to the tournament, Pam and the rest of the family continue to host them year after year.

One of those players, Saki Kumagai, scored the game-winning penalty kick to close out Japan’s historic come-from-behind victory over the United States in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

“When the Japanese played the Americans in the World Cup, that was so exciting to see a girl that had stayed with me,” Jackie said.  “It was so fun, I almost found myself cheering for them instead of the Americans.”

Jackie’s husband Ethan is a bit more direct in his support. “I was cheering for them,” he said.

But with Jackie long since out of the house, it didn’t take long for she and her husband to begin hosting Tokiwagi players at their own home.

“As soon as I had my own place, when I got married and had my own house, we jumped on the opportunity,” she said.

This year the entire family has gotten in on the act, and as they watched Tokiwagi dismantle one of the tournament’s top U16 girls teams to lock up the Super Elite Championship on Sunday afternoon, the pride in Pam’s voice was evident.

“They were so sweet, and so helpful, and always thankful about everything,” she said. “They were so gracious.”

“I’ve been able to learn English a bit,” Tokiwagi player Ayano Iwaki said through a translator, as her host family and teammates crowded around her. “I feel that they are really nice people because they’ve been worrying about us.  They make us feel at home.”

Nanako Kobayashi, who stayed with Jackie this year, was unaware of the family connection prior to beginning her homestay experience.

“I wasn’t very nervous, but I was anxious, the teams are a lot different than what I’m used too,” she said through a translator.

Teammate Narumi Kuratani admitted that communicating with her host family had been a challenge, but that the experience has been a positive one.

According to Ethan, the challenges of communicating with his Japanese guests have been offset by advances in technology, as well as both groups’ willingness to learn.

“The translators online have gotten better, and they’ve helped a lot,” he said.  “We learned a few words, and they’ve learned a few words.”

Despite the barriers in language and culture, Pam, Jackie and the rest of their family hope to continue opening their homes to Tokiwagi for years to come.

“You get through all of the language differences and the cultural differences, and by the end of the week they’re family,” said Jackie.

And although nearly 6,000 miles separate Blaine from their island home, it’s nice to know that despite the distance, Tokiwagi players will always have a home in Minnesota.



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Tag(s): July 14, 2013