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Asuchalle School Goes to All 47 Prefectures: Workshop Held in Ehime, the Last Remaining Prefecture

The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center (Parasapo) hosted Asuchalle School, a parasport workshop class, on February 27 at Ozu Higashi Municipal Junior High School in Ehime Prefecture. This installment of Asuchalle School was sponsored by Japan Airlines Co., Ltd. (hereinafter “JAL”).

It’s now been close to three years since Asuchalle School was established in 2016. Starting 2017, the program expanded nationwide—with the sponsorship of JAL—with four instructors visiting 662 elementary, junior high, and high schools across the country. Over the past three years, instructors for the program have made their way around all 47 prefectures, has held workshops for parasports like wheelchair basketball, etc., for 105,397 students.

In this article, we will cover the installment of Asuchalle School that was held in the very last—47th—prefecture, Ehime Prefecture.

Students Captivated by Wheelchair Basketball Demonstration

“Hey there everyone!”
So said Shinji Negi, popular Asuchalle School instructor and captain of the men’s Japan national wheelchair basketball team for the Sydney Paralympics in 2000, to a crowd of about 50 people gathered at Ozu Higashi Municipal Junior High School. His energetic greeting was met with a round of applause.

“I think today will be a day that none of you will forget.”

After his self-introduction, Negi introduced the other members of the Asuchalle School workshop and the JAL representatives, making sure to look at the faces of every person in the audience, much like he had done in the past 46 prefectures.

Negi introduced the other members, saying “These are my friends”

All of the 1st to 3rd grade students in the school participated in the event. As the children listened with serious expressions, Negi explained the principles behind the name of the program, explaining how “Asuchalle” meant challenge for tomorrow, and communicating the importance of having a dream. “Today, I want you all to think about your goals for tomorrow and for the future,” he said, with passion.

In the demonstration that followed, Negi hopped onto a wheelchair made for wheelchair basketball—where the wheels are splayed out—and raced across the gymnasium in front of the students, who were sitting on the floor hugging their knees.

During the demonstration, Negi joked around with the students, saying, “I’m pretty good at wheelchair basketball—wanna see?” and “I’ve been to 46 prefectures so far and they’ve all said yes, but you guys seem like a tough crowd…” As he raced around, dribbling and making shots, the children seemed to loosen up and grow more and more excited.

“Just like in baseball, the tools are really important,” said Negi, showing them the sports wheelchair, a lightweight wheelchair that can make sharp turns

Negi threw his fist in the air after making a three-pointer in his demonstration

A Parasports Workshop Full of Excitement

In the second part of the program, some students from the audience actually went on the sports wheelchairs and took part in a wheelchair basketball workshop. The students were to play in a 5-on-5 game. Most of the students had never been on a wheelchair before, however, and when the game began, many of them stayed rooted to the spot, unable to move.

But then came a chorus of encouragement. “Cheer for them to make that shot! It’s up to you guys to cheer them on!” yelled Negi, encouraging the audience to clap in time and cheer for the students on the court.

The two matches, held amidst cheers of encouragement, were full of excitement, with students trying their best and making amazing shots and long passes.

The students put their all into their offense and defense

“It was hard but fun,” said the students when the match was over

Lecture and Its Unique Insights for Every Member of the Audience

The matches brought a sense of unity amongst the students

The students, who in cheering for the teams had come together as one, gathered around Negi and listened to his lecture with serious expressions.

Negi spoke about the courage it takes to try to fulfill your potential

By this point, the students seemed completely relaxed around Negi. “Let’s say I want to go to the 2nd or 3rd floor to see all of you. But there’s no elevator. What do I do?” He said, asking them to envision a conversation with a helpful friend. “The impairment isn’t in me—it’s in the stairs, right?” he said with conviction.

He went on, speaking as to his experience as a person with impairment. “Of course there are things that I find difficult or struggle with because I’m in a wheelchair, but in the gymnasium, as you’ve seen, I can move however I want, and I don’t have any trouble at all,” he said, as the students nodded in understanding. “So would you really say I’m someone that needs anybody’s pity?” he asked.

At the end, all the participants received an origami keychain on which they could write their own “asuchalle” (challenge for tomorrow), and a commemorative JAL original pass case, and just like that, the 90-minute workshop was over. The students thanked Negi for the workshop, gifted him a bouquet of flowers, and lined up to high-five him, making promises to see him again. Everyone seemed reluctant for the event to end.

After the workshop, the students lined up one by one to high-five and say goodbye to Negi

Asuchalle School Member Interviews: 47 Prefectures Down!

◆ Shinji Negi, Project Director, Asuchalle

Today’s a really incredible day, because Asuchalle School has finally been around to all 47 prefectures. I’ve had the opportunity to go to so many amazing places—the people of Tokushima welcomed me with taiko and awa-odori (traditional Japanese dance) performances, and in Shizuoka, one of the teachers played a sort of fanfare on trumpets for my entrance to the gymnasium… All of these experiences are now amazing memories of mine. When I visited Nara—where I’m from—for the second time, all the students were so welcoming, and over the course of the 90-minute workshop they almost became completely different people, to the point where at the end they were coming up to me and telling me about their friends. It was such a fun experience. I do think the long-term nature of this program and the fact that we’ve been able to keep 15 staff—instructors and administration—has been integral to us being able to affect change in society. I’d like to expand this program to more areas of Japan even after 2020 as well.”

◆ Atsuyuki Agawa, Council for Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympic Promotion, Communication Division, JAL

“As inspiring as it that the program has now been to all 47 prefectures, this isn’t even close to the end of Asuchalle School! By promoting parasports in local areas as well as in Tokyo, we expand the scope of interest not only to the students, but the people around them as well. Our next step is to go out overseas, and offer this program to people in other countries, as well as Japanese people who live abroad.”

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by Yoshio Kato

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