This is Part 2 of a seven-part series on how athletes, residents and teams have been struggling in the quake-hit areas for a year after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
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The Daikyo Swimming School was full of children on a chilly February night.
Futoshi Endo, 18, a third-year student at Fukushima Seikei High School, had been training at the Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, swimming school since he was 5 years old. But he had to temporarily evacuate to Fukuoka Prefecture with his mother’s friend’s two daughters right after the Fukushima No. 1 power plant’s No. 3 reactor exploded on March 14, 2011.
“For a while, I was so worried I was afraid to wake up in the morning. But in Fukuoka, people were so nice. I was really lucky in terms of people. I only meet nice people,” Endo says.
In Fukuoka, Endo stayed in the home of a friend of a friend of his mother’s. The host family searched for a place for Endo to train, and the Onojo Swimming Club in Fukuoka Prefecture took him in temporarily.
“To repay those people, I can only produce results,” says Endo, who returned to Nihonmatsu in April to train. At the Inter-High School Championships in August, he placed third by breaking his own Fukushima prefectural record in free-style swimming.
“My goal is to make the final in the Olympic qualifying race in April," says Endo, who plans to enroll in Kokushikan University this spring. "I want to make the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.”
Although many athletes from the disaster areas are still able to train and compete, many high school students in Fukushima Prefecture, which was rocked by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, have had no choice but to give up on sports activities in their hometowns.
According to a survey by the High School Athletic Federations last August, the number of registered athletes in Fukushima fell to 22,185 people from the previous year's 24,206.
The government-imposed mandatory 20-kilometer no-entry zone around the reactors remains intact. On Feb. 23, the heads of each sports organization of the Soso District High School Athletic Federation, including high schools that have been shut down due to the nuclear accident, held a meeting for the first time since the triple disasters. Many representatives reported on the grim situation where school sports teams are increasingly being shut down because the number of students have dropped by half or because teams cannot be formed because of the decline in club members.
Many parents of elementary school and junior high school children are hesitant to let their children play outdoors due to radiation concerns. Therefore, many representatives reported that top-level junior high student athletes are leaving Fukushima Prefecture and that dome-covered sports facilities are necessary.
At Haramachi High School in Minami-Soma city, where some students attend a satellite school from evacuation centers, the track and field team was reduced from 32 members to six after the quake. Shuhei Okumura, 45, a teacher who is in charge of the team, says, “Even if the number of students decreases, I want to do something for the students who are still here and working hard.”
Okumura evacuated his own three grade-school-aged children to Kanagawa Prefecture and continues to teach in Fukushima. With the cooperation of parents, he now takes many precautions with drinking water and food to protect his students from radiation exposure.
The number of students applying for public high schools run by the Fukushima prefectural government is dramatically shrinking, especially at schools near the nuclear power plant. Even Tomioka High School, whose men and women’s badminton team came in third two years in a row at the Inter-High School Championships, saw applicants fall short of the school’s enrollment limit. Futaba High School, which made it to the National High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium in 1973, 1980 and 1994, had only 15 applicants for the enrollment limit of 40 students who would have been accepted into the school based on their baseball skills and academic records.
The nuclear accident continues to threaten school club activities.
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