Lacrosse is gaining popularity throughout the nation and throughout the world.
That’s evident in Westchester, where the Keio Academy’s second-year junior team is picking up steam, thanks in large part to the efforts of senior captain Chris Jinno (pictured above). The goal is to launch a varsity team — possibly as soon as next year. The Keio Academy, located in Purchase, is affiliated with Keio University, one of Japan’s most prestigious colleges.
Here’s a Q&A with Chris on how it all came about for him and the Unicorns.
When did you first hear about the sport of lacrosse and when did you first watch a game? What were your thoughts?
I first saw lacrosse at the neighboring college, Manhattanville. This sport was nothing like I had seen before back in Japan. The helmets and pads reminded me of ice hockey. Only it was on dirt. I also noticed how there was almost no fouling like basketball or soccer. You can basically beat up your opponent and get away with it.
When did you first decide to play the sport and how did you go about it?
I bought my first stick spring of freshman year. It was on sale at Sports Authority. I basically played wall ball almost 30 to 60 minutes a day for the entire spring and summer. The feeling of throwing the ball was so addicting. Soon, I bought another stick so I could have some of my friends play catch with me during the summer in Japan. I think that’s how I improved my catching and throwing skills overall.
What went into the process of organizing a team at Keio? How did you go about doing it?
Organizing the lacrosse team is the biggest accomplishment of my life. It all started out sophomore spring 2008. That year, I got six guys who were interested in playing the sport. With the kind help and support of the athletics manager, we were able to order pads and uniforms and such. We practiced on the side of the field five times a week for three months. Obviously we couldn’t play any games that year because we only had six people. Mr. Sampson, was our coach for that year in 2008. He was a school teacher’s husband who graduated from Cornell back in the ’70s. Mr. Sampson was kind enough to stop by once or twice a week to help us learn the sport.
Junior year was when it all got serious. Now that I was an upperclassman, I was able to reach in more to the sophomores and freshmen. That year, I was able to get 18 people to play the sport. We were definitely not the most athletic bunch, but strong dedication to the sport covers that part. After that, I talked with the athletic director and headmaster to organize the team for real. Thanks to our AD, we were scheduled to play as a JV team in the league. This decision was rational, because our team was 10 freshmen, four sophomores and four juniors.
My first game was in junior year. First being the exhibition game with Keio High School in Japan. Keio High School is an all-boys school in the same Keio family. Having almost 1000 people per grade, the atmosphere of their school and our school is very different.
It all happened during winter break. I returned to Japan to talk to the head coach at Keio University because I was interested in playing there after I graduate from Keio Academy of New York. The head coach at the university had told me that the Keio High School was going to go on a tour in the United States to play with American high schools. I contacted their coach and asked if they would stop by our high school for a scrimmage. They gladly accepted. March 2009, Keio High School visited our school to play us. This was the first lacrosse game I had ever played in my life. I felt like all those days of just practicing had paid off. (Though Keio Academy lost 16-0, Keio High School is the only high school in Japan approved by the Japanese Lacrosse Association. The school accounts for 75 percent of the U-19 Japan team.)
Tell us about your coaches.
I have to give big shoutouts to my regular-season coaches. First being Mr. Sampson. As I said, he really created the core of Keio Academy lacrosse. He is our first coach and will always be the father of the team.
Our coach last year was Coach Nunz. After graduating college, he was picked by our athletic director to coach us for the 2009 season. He helped us finish the season with a 9-2 record in JV. His strong heart and passion really pushed our team to the next level.
Lastly, I have to give huge credit to Mr. Mattson. Mr. Mattson is our dorm supervisor at Keio. He is also our field manager. He played lacrosse back in the day and was kind enough to help us out in every way he can.
Me being an avid lacrosse geek, I have read every lacrosse book and watched almost every lacrosse video I can get a hold of.
Keio is a Japanese High School with Japanese traditions. All clubs and sports are operated all year long. We practice hard five to six time a day since September getting as much field and gym time as we possibly can in order to catch up with neighboring schools.
I also have to thank Mrs. Gonzalez and Mr. Arias of the Keio athletic department for helping me out during the building process. It wouldnt have been successful without them.
What are your goals for this season and how many kids are on the team?
Our goal this season is to be able to play with varsity teams. Hopefully we can win all of our JV games this season so we can play some varsity teams in the end of the season. My dream was to play in the sectionals but I guess I will have to leave that to the younger guys.
We have 28 players and six managers on the team.
When did you come to Keio from Japan? Did you speak any English at the time and how did the process of learning the language and adjusting to the U.S. go?
Up until freshman year, I lived in the capital of Japan, Tokyo. I never lived even a single year in the United States before coming to Keio although I attended a international school and learned most of my English there. Keio Academy of New York is an interesting high school. As you may know, our school is all Japanese. Among the Japanese students, they can be categorized into two groups. The two groups are “Eigo-ha” (American-cultured students) and the “Nihongo-ha” (Japanese-cultured students). I was an “Eigo-ha” because I had an English education. Many Nihongo-ha students at Keio speak little to almost no English before they come here.
What are your college plans and what is your lacrosse future?
Ninety nine of Keio students go back to Japan to attend Keio University. I am part of the one percent who plans to attend college in the United States. Since recruiting was not an option and walking onto great D-I and D-III schools was unrealistic, I plan on applying regularly to strong academic schools with good MCLA programs. I really want to go to Michigan and try out for the team. So far, the college process isn’t going as well as I expected, but hopefully some college will want me.
After graduating college, I plan in going back to Japan to spread the sport of lacrosse at the undeveloped high school level.
Keio seeks scrimmages
Keio Academy is looking for teams to scrimmage against this spring. If interested, please e-mail Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org
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