Basketball Is Community

JAO’s “Spring Fling” benefit dance is set for Saturday, May 20, at 7:30 p.m. at Nishi Hongwanji Kaikan, 815 E. First St. in Little Tokyo.

F.O.R., Wanjettes, H.D., Bruins, Venice, Jetts, Evergreen, Mustangs, Tigers, San Fernando, W.L.A. … if any of these acronyms or names mean anything to you, that means you played JAO basketball, or have a daughter, granddaughter, or someone you know that plays on those teams.

Your Sundays are devoted to “The Game.” Snacks after the game are a big thing ranging from Spam musubi to nori furikake Chex mix. The girls learn what Gatorade is from an early age, and the benefits of cold water and keeping hydrated during a game.

All the parents of the team help transport the girls to practices, games and tournaments. Northern Cal teams from San Jose to San Francisco travel down to compete with the So Cal gals during the Memorial Day weekend for the big Tigers Tournament. Waves of teams travel from all over for the popular Hollywood Dodgers Las Vegas tournament as a last family vacation before school starts.

For all of us here in Southern California, this basketball phenomenon is all because of JAO – the acronym for the long-standing community service organization that is Japanese American Optimists, which has its roots and early beginnings in Little Tokyo. Originally formed by many of the professionals and business owners in Little Tokyo, JAO now has a diverse membership of men and women devoted to the community service of serving the youth, via the basketball program, scholarships and its many, many youth activities.

Even the basketball program has many of the girls’ teams going to Sakura Gardens (formerly Keiro), doing origami and playing bingo with the senior residents, among other activities. At an early age, JAO not only provides the vehicle to play basketball, but also teaches youth the meaning of giving back and what community service is.

Through basketball, lifelong friendships among the players, as well as the families, are made. Basketball can be fun, but it is hard work and hours of dedicated practice that these young girls learn from an early age.