PONTE VEDRA, Fla. – Lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports worldwide. That was on full display as a high school team from Tokyo wrapped up their visit to the United States with a scrimmage against local kids on Wednesday night.
20 players, two coaches, a translator and a trainer all made the trip from Japan for a week of lacrosse and friendship on the First Coast. They stayed with local families from Creekside, Episcopal and Bolles.
Iwakura High School head coach Ayumu Hiraki says that each one of his players not only had a fantastic time, but learned a lot about the sport they love.
"The players had a magnificent time playing against the United States," said Hiraki through a translator. "They not only had a lot of lacrosse, but a lot of communicating and making new friends here by practicing together. They had a great time here."
Even though Iwakura is just one of five high schools in Tokyo that has lacrosse, just about every university offers lacrosse as a sport and it is getting more competitive according to Hiraki.
"I have played lacrosse for a long time and I was able to make a lot of friends internationally. We are all a similar nature. As soon as we get the sticks together, we feel the same way, we became friends. I feel that similarity because lacrosse players are all essentially the same."
Those sentiments were echoed by Riley McCormick, a freshman at Ponte Vedra high school that played against the Iwakura team on Wednesday. He says that the popularity of lacrosse in Japan was surprising to him.
"It's pretty cool how popular it is over there. These guys are really talented and it was fun playing them. They played just as hard as us, maybe even harder. They were always running and playing 100 percent."
Randy Evans is the chairman and head coach of Lighthouse Lacrosse who sponsored the Japanese team's visit here. He lived in Japan for five years and knows just how powerful the sport can be as far as friendship goes.
"Lacrosse makes friends. That's what this is all about, getting these guys from across the ocean to recognize that they have something in common with us. It is a great networking sport that will help make friendships for their whole life."