National high school championships provide hope but require caution

With school life severely restricted by the novel coronavirus, it is hoped that high school athletes will demonstrate the results of their efforts to balance learning and club activities.

This summer’s national high school championships, known as the inter-high school meets, have begun. They are taking place mainly in the five prefectures of the Hokushinetsu region — Fukui, Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa and Nagano. Until Aug. 24, about 30,000 students will participate in 30 sports, including athletics and swimming.

The event was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it is now being held for the first time in two years. The National High School Baseball Championship will also be held at Koshien Stadium for the first time in two years.

The pandemic continues to have a large influence on school life. Many schools have been increasing classes on Saturdays or have shortened their summer holidays to make up for class time lost due to antivirus measures, such as school closures or staggered attendance based on grade or class.

Events such as sports and cultural festivals have been forced to be canceled or scaled down. In many cases, club activities may be restricted in terms of activity time and matches with other schools.

Athletes should be proud of the fact that they did not give up their hopes and continued to work hard to earn berths at these national championships in spite of such tough circumstances. It is hoped that as they compete at these championships, they will spare a thought for their seniors who were denied their dreams of making it to the big stage of national championships, as well as athletes from other schools who were not able to advance to the national events.

For many third-year students, national high school championships are the culmination of their club activities. For top-level athletes, participation in the national championships will be an important step toward Olympic and professional careers.

The biggest challenge is to prevent infections and ensure a safe event. With the number of new infections on the rise across the country, the utmost caution will be needed at these events where prefectural representatives are expected to gather.

In principle, the events will be held without spectators. However, if the infection situation deteriorates, such as a case in which a state of emergency is declared for the host prefectures, it is expected that total or partial cancellations will be considered.

Measures have been taken according to the characteristics of each sport. For example, in the case of judo, which involves intense physical contact, players undergo PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and the match time is shortened.

Some schools have already decided not to participate in the national championships as athletes were infected with the virus or were found to have had close contact with infected people. Each school should take thorough measures to prevent infections from spreading through competitions. Awareness of heatstroke risk is also essential.

On July 31, a national high school comprehensive cultural festival, which is called an inter-high school event of cultural clubs, will start in Wakayama Prefecture. It is the first time in two years that the event has been held with participants gathered at venues.

In 22 areas, including chorus, brass band, arts and crafts, photography and newspapers, the results of daily practice and training will be displayed. Although there are many restrictions, such as limiting the number of visitors to prevent infections, the event will be an opportunity to deepen exchanges between students from various parts of the country who have been working in the same fields.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 30, 2021.