ASHLAND, ORE. — THE Ashland (Ore.) High School football team will go to any length, it seems, for a game - even across the Pacific. Just before this year's season began the team flew to Osaka, Japan, to play an all-star team from 20 high schools.
The exchange program began four years ago when head coach Jim Nagel met Japanese officials who were in Ashland for a game between a Japanese college-level team and Southern Oregon State College. Mr. Nagel was told that no high school team from the United States mainland had ever played in Japan, and he saw a chance for his players to experience another culture in a way they never could in the classroom.
The teams play every two years, alternating between the two cities. The team raised some $90,000 through donations and fund-raisers in order to go. Ashland has won the first three meetings, this year by the score of 21-14.
The Japanese style of play is similar to the Americans': They like to pass a lot, and have good team speed. The quality of their play is not on a par with Ashland's, but with each contact the gap is closing. "They're really learning a lot, and learning fast," assistant coach Todd Contreras says. " They're good athletes."
Osaka surprised Ashland this year with a trick play from the 1930s called the "Guard-around." The quarterback received the snap and started a sweep to one side of the line, along with most of the blockers. As he did so, he put the ball on the ground for one of the linemen (who cannot receive hand-offs), who picked it up and ran the other way for what would have been a touchdown, had it not been called back for a clipping penalty.