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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.

Monica Quan

When word got out about the dance benefit for JAO, the family and friends of Monica Quan, the young assistant coach from Cal State Fullerton and Cal Lutheran who was tragically killed in 2013, a basketball player for Cal State Long Beach and later Concordia and a star athlete from Walnut High were the first to jump at reserving a table in her memory. The family and friends attribute her love for basketball to her early beginnings in JAO. It is their way of saying “thank you” to this organization, which has been sponsoring the girls’ invitational basketball program for over 50 years.

JAO and Friends are pleased to present the “Spring Fling” dance benefit for the JAO Foundation to continue to fund the girls basketball program as well as all of their other youth activities.

Headlining the event is the Kokoro band and friends with their popular dance music, which includes rock, pop, funk, and soul. Asian Persuasion is making a guest appearance with their sounds from Motown, and Miko Shudo of the Bluesettes and Grateful Crane will also perform with the band. Line dance lessons will be taught by instructor extraordinaire Toru Nagao.

Rounding out the evening, there will be opportunity drawings for valuable door prizes. Come for an evening of fun and dance for a good cause.

Individual tickets are $40. A community sponsor table for 10 is $500. Other opportunities for sponsorships are available. Deadline for early-bird pricing is Friday, May 12. For more information, contact Keith Inatomi at, Carol Tanita at or Wayne Nagao at

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