The Panasonic Panthers make efforts to educate the next generation with Hirakata City Gojo Elementary School
In the 2021/22 series, the Panasonic Panthers are striving to win their eighth V League championship, which would be their first in three years. Gojo is the closest elementary school to the team’s home of Panasonic Arena in Hirakata City. The sixth graders there are having an activity to support the Panasonic Panthers in winning the V League championship, and the school is coming together to support the athletes. The athletes and children are building bonds through regional contribution activities such as providing volleyball classes and serving as safety monitors for the children when they go home from school. The Gojo Elementary sixth graders have been conducting the activity for one year, and with the coming arrival of spring, they are nearing the goal.
Founded in 1951. They were the first champions in the newly formed V League in the 2018/19 series, and took two successive championships. They have won the championship seven times, and were runners-up nine times. This fierce team is always in the thick of the battle for victory in the V Premier League.
Athlete Takahiko Imamura
Born 1993 in Miyazaki Prefecture, team number 9.
His nickname is Hiko, and his position is outside hitter / opposite hitter. He believes that as a volleyball player, it’s important to make a connection with small children.
Responding the children’s boundless enthusiasm
Gojo Elementary School’s sixth graders (students graduating in the 2021 academic year) work with the Panthers in the 70 hours a year the students spend in “integrated studies.” It all started with a volleyball class that we held when they were in the fourth grade. Following that, the athletes and children became friendly through activities such as serving as safety monitors for the children when they go home from school. However, we were surprised that they chose us for a study topic! The sixth graders go around to the other grades to introduce the team, hang up profiles of the athletes in the school hallways, and post the match schedule. It’s like Gojo Elementary is part of the Panthers team! The entire school have become Panthers fans, and it’s really encouraging. We want to respond to the children’s boundless enthusiasm, so we play our best in every match. We’re looking forward to the day we can tell them, “We couldn’t have won the championship without the support of everyone at Gojo Elementary School!”
I want to be an athlete that the children can look up to
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have less chances to directly communicate with the students. Despite the situation, we still connect with the class and receive activity reports as well as communicate while fielding questions, all via ZOOM. It’s really fun to connect with the children. When they look at tall athletes, their eyes get wide and they look stunned, and I think that kind of honest reaction is really nice (laughs). Back when I was a child, I participated in my home area’s V League team volleyball class. I still have the feeling of looking up to those athletes, so I see it as my duty to give that experience back to the children. By being an athlete that the children can look up to, I believe I can contribute to the expansion of the volleyball world.
The importance of learning from currently active athletes
Usually, we hold about 70 volleyball classes in every region of the country. We can’t make the rounds during League play, so we usually teach during summer. It’s not always easy to coordinate the activity around practice sessions, but I think the children are helped more by receiving lessons from currently active athletes, so going forward I’ll continue to make this activity important. And in the future, if the children I meet here become athletes, I think that would make me happier than anything. My fellow athletes and I often talk about the activity, such as when we see a child with promise, or when we feel like we failed to grab the student’s interest with a talk (laughs). Going forward, I hope to build interest and excitement toward volleyball, while enjoying the activity with all of the athletes.
Raising the next generation through regional contributions
Panasonic is sympathetic to the aims of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which are to “realize a better world and inclusive society.” The company has been providing support as a Worldwide Partner to the Olympics since 1987 and the Paralympics since 2014. And going forward, it will offer educational opportunities that draw out the potential of students through various sports activities in addition to volleyball lessons. We will contribute to the development of the young generation who will be responsible for carrying the future.
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Our thanks to Mr. Imamura, who was kind enough to cooperate with this interview despite being busy with the ongoing season. “We’ve advanced to the finals for four years in a row, but finished second for the last two years, unable to close strong. This year we want the championship, because we want to give back to everyone who’s supported us. We hope you’ll join all the Panthers fans in cheering for us!
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