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Masa Yamamoto, an exchange student from Japan, ran cross country for Enterprise High School in the fall and played basketball for Joseph High School in the winter. Observer file photo
by Katy Nesbitt/The Observer
ENTERPRISE — When an adventurous teen throws his or her name in a hat to spend a year in a foreign country, much is left to fate. For Masa Yamamoto, he’s having no trouble making himself at home in Enterprise, 7,600 miles from his family.
He expected to end up on the East Coast, but fate brought him to Enterprise, and he said he couldn’t be happier.
“Everyone is so friendly,” said Yamamoto.
His favorite and best sport is basketball. In Hiroshima, it’s part of an arduous schedule of school, study and year-round play. He said he regularly gets home at 10 p.m., in time to sleep a bit before repeating the cycle.
In Wallowa County, the sports system is different. Without year-round basketball, Yamamoto was recruited for the all-county cross country team, coached by Dan Moody. He regularly placed in the top five or six, scoring points for the team.
Moody said, “Yamamoto did a great job for us. He’s a heck of a competitor — always pushing himself. He would get upset if he had a poor performance and would be really tough on himself.”
Moody successfully recruits exchange students every year, though most have never run competitively.
Yamamoto said being on the team was a great way to meet the other exchange students as well as getting to know the Wallowa County kids. He laughed heartily when asked about running with the team.
“I like Mr. Moody so much and the practices,” said Yamamoto.
Practices? If you haven’t seen the Wallowa County team do a work-out, it may not make sense, but there is a tight camaraderie among them as they push each other up each exhausting hill with good-natured silliness mixed in with a lot of hard work.
“Masa always smiled,” Moody said. “He’s just a pleasant individual to be around all the time and he took kidding with ease and gave it right back. He’s fun to be around and great to have on your team.”
Yamamoto’s competitive spirit also showed up in his position at guard on the Joseph High School basketball team.
Coach Larry Wells also mentioned his competitiveness.
“He’s a good player, breaks presses and is a valuable member of the team. It’s been a few years since an exchange student played on the varsity team,” said Wells.
Wells said he thinks the American game is faster, but Yamamoto made the necessary adjustments.
Yamamoto said he noticed a difference in American basketball, “The other kids are tough and big.”
Another difference he said he enjoys is the enthusiasm of the crowds, something different than in Japan.
The adjustments, on and off the court, seem easy for Yamamoto whether in language, slang, American food or four-day school weeks. His taste for experiencing other cultures has whetted his appetite and he said he plans to spend a year abroad when he attends college in a couple years.
Yamamoto shoots hoops with host brother Blair Beaudoin and the neighborhood kids and has skied at Ferguson Ridge, something he’d only done once as a kid living in southern Japan.
“I want to learn to ski well,” said Yamamoto.
He’s also distinguished himself as a very big eater. He said he misses Japanese food, but has acquired a taste for pizza, burgers and tacos.
Host brother Beaudoin said, “He eats more than anyone and gains no weight!”
Living with a typical American family, he was introduced to the Super Bowl, Wii games and during homecoming he was voted, “Mr. Jo High.”
He even attended the Pendleton Round Up and rode a mechanical bull. Beaudoin said his parents hosted exchange students in the past, but this was his first experience. He chose Yamamoto for two reasons: “For his big smile and because he plays basketball.”
The boys have a lot of fun and Beaudoin said he wants to host another exchange student next year.
Now, the boys are preparing to hit the baseball field, Beaudoin at catcher and Yamamoto?
Well, this is his first crack at the sport, but expect him to bring enthusiasm, speed and a competitive edge to whatever position he plays.