Competition. Culture. Comaraderie.


Levels of excitement (and testosterone) run high in the locker rooms of the Oji Koen Stadium. In just a matter of moments, Ashland High School’s football team will step out onto the field to compete in the Pacific Rim Bowl.

         What is the Pacific Rim Bowl?

The Pacific Rim Bowl is a biennial foreign exchange football game with programs alternate host locations; Osaka/Kobe, and Ashland, Oregon. This tradition started back in 1986, when a group of coaches from Japan came over to SOU due to their interest in a football exchange with the university. Former Head Coach Jim Nagel happened to be around, and the Japanese coaches wanted to talk to him about how he lined the field with chalk. Then they came over to the high school to further discuss the preparations of the field before football games . That conversation evolved into the idea of creating a high school exchange that started in 1988. The coaches put their heads together and started mapping out how this program was going to work. One year the Japanese football team would travel to the United States for 10 days to live the American life and compete in an international game; the next year, they would be hosting the Ashland football team, showing us their world. Both teams truly got the experience of a lifetime.

         However, the “experience of a lifetime” does not come cheap.

    Where does the money come from?

“Fundraising has always been an issue,” Coach Steve Mitzel said, “the last two times we’ve gone there was some point in the process where we thought we weren’t going to be able to pull it off.” With a cost of $2000 per player, plus 7 coaches, no one expects the fundraising of the nearly $100,000 trip to be easy, but Mitzel remains optimistic, “fortunately, our community is extremely gracious. They know about the Pacific Rim Bowl in Japan and here, so they support us. One of our favorite fundraisers is the auction. A lot of alumni show up, so that’s a big money maker.”

    Success and Skill

This group of boys has been able to attain things that once seemed so far out of reach. For instance, they conquered Marist, a team that has defeated Ashland many times in the past. It was a big win. Coach Charlie Hall expresses his appreciation: “there is a good combination of boys on the team. You have to have great seniors to have any good football team. In football sometimes bigger is better, so you have a group of kids who are older and bigger and stronger, so that’s kind of your foundation. They’re bigger and stronger, but they’re also good kids. They provide good leadership and work very hard.” Although senior leadership is the base of the football team, there is always room for new things. Nicky Weinberg, a freshman at Ashland High, became the first freshman in history to be a part of the Pacific Rim Bowl. Weinberg conveyed his gratitude, “It is a huge honor. It is great to be a part of this tradition, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity.”

So what is the secret of success for this football team? Theo Whitcomb, a junior on the Ashland High School football team stated his reasoning: “The team this year has been able to bond well. I think a team must have great trust to be successful. After spending a week in another country with only your teammates to speak English with, you become much closer.” Coach Tito Soriano adds, “For the most part, a lot of the seniors have been together for a long time through Pop Warner. They were put into action early in their high school career. As sophomores, they had played against Japan for the first time, so they already knew what it meant to win. I think winning in Japan gave them more confidence as a team, and with the leadership of the seniors, it helps tremendously.” This past summer was the 13th time that the Ashland High School football team has traveled to Japan. Not only were they playing football, they were living their lives in the way of the Japanese. “The Hiroshima Memorial Park was also memorable. It was humbling to see the destruction, and to be in the place of such a tragic event,”  Whitcomb adds.  At least 50 kids got to indulge in the culture of a foreign country through the sport they love. Even better, they brought home a victory from the other side of the world for the first time since 1997.

    Preparing for Culture Shock

Much time was spent in getting prepared for this trip. How did the boys brace themselves for the immense cultural differences? Hall explains, “During the summer we spend time before every workout in the classroom talking about the language, talking about the trip, talking about what to expect, talking about etiquette in the family and giving them some exposure. We watched YouTube videos about things that happen in Japan to kind of capture their interest and provide excitement about the trip.” Saying they were excited about this opportunity would be an understatement. The team was ecstatic. Hall adds, “When we got there they were so excited, and it just built every day.” Over the years, through wins, losses, good days, and bad days, the team is banded together by a few words: ‘we love and care for each other.’ “Our players are out there playing because they care about each other, and not the fact that they hate the opponent.” Hall says.
With this kind of passion and camaraderie, our football team is unstoppable.