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Tears and memories: Fushimi Technical rugby team tastes defeat before school name change

A tearful Yoshiharu Yamaguchi, far left, talks to members of the Fushimi Technical High School rugby team after their game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium in Higashiosaka, Osaka Prefecture, on Jan. 1, 2016. (Mainichi)

Members of Fushimi Technical High School's rugby team ended their National High School Rugby Tournament match against Tokai University Gyosei High School in tears on Jan. 1, losing 41-5. For them the match had had special significance -- it was the last time in the tournament for first- to third-year students to play under their school's current name. This spring, the Kyoto institution, a four-time winner of the tournament, will merge with Rakuyo Technical High School into Kyoto Kogakuin school, and "Fushimi Technical High School" will disappear.

    This final game stirred up emotions: a tinge of sadness, as well as hopes for a new future. Among those watching over the players were general coach Yoshiharu Yamaguchi, 72, the first coach to lead Fushimi Technical to victory in the tournament in 1980; and 53-year-old Katsumi Mimura, who played as a prop during that triumph.

    Some 15,000 spectators gathered at Hanazono Rugby Stadium in the Osaka Prefecture city of Higashiosaka for the match -- a large turnout that surprised Mimura.

    A red banner was spread across the middle of a back stand at the stadium. It bore a cherished motto of Yamaguchi's: "believing is power."

    "Our school name may change, but Fushimi Technical's rugby won't change," said Mimura. "The confidence from battling with friends will be a treasure for life."

    It was Tokai University Gyosei High School that took the first try, leaving Fushimi Technical trailing. Coach Taku Matsubayashi, 48, ordered the Fushimi Technical players to attack, and a loud voice of support came from the stands: "We're gonna get one!"

    The 52-year-old father of third-year player Taiki Dejima was there supporting the team in a red jumper. Fushimi Technical High School served as a model for a school in the television drama "School Wars," about the reform of delinquent students through rugby, and when Dejima went through a rough patch in junior high school, his father advised him to join Fushimi Technical's rugby club.

    "My son says he wants to be a firefighter in the future. It was Fushimi Technical that made him kind," his father said.

    General coach Yamaguchi -- nicknamed the "crying teacher" -- was in the front row of the main stand. In the 14th minute of the second half Fushimi finally nailed a try in typical style on a play from the backs. He gave a burst of applause, and at the final whistle, he applauded the players with a smile.

    After the match all the Fushimi Technical players were in tears.

    "The try was for all our friends who couldn't be in the game," sobbed the team's captain, No. 8 Hikaru Sasaki, a third-year student. Wing Tomoya Kimura, a second-year student, vowed to return to Hanazono, saying, "Our school name may change, but the spirit and pride of Fushimi Technical will remain."

    Yamaguchi joined the circle of players and told them, "Go on in life without forgetting these bitter tears. And to the first- and second-year players: let's do our best to carry the mission of building a new history."

    As Yamaguchi shook hands with Sasaki, a tear dropped from the coach's eye.

    It is said that the basic design of the traditional red jersey that the team has worn will continue to be used after the current first-year students have graduated.

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