Beyond sportsmanship 75 years ago – in Big Pine

Bob Church
Big Pine coach

Warriors honored Manzanar internees with a football game

Just over 75 years ago, on October 25, 1944, the United States was still involved in World War II. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese individuals and families, many of whom were U.S. citizens, were displaced and ordered to vacate their homes and leave behind most of their belongings. More than 11,000 Japanese people were processed to the Manzanar Internment Camp, just miles south of Independence. 
Manzanar would have a high school and would field a football team, but would only be able to find one school to play them in a 6-man football game. That Manzanar team would go on to defeat the Big Pine Warriors 33-0 in the game played at Manzanar. A young man by the name of Ujiaki Niwa, No. 83, played end for Manzanar that afternoon.
Later in life, Niwa would have a son, Stephen, who would often be reminded of his father’s football experience. Most of the time, this experience was shared with Stephen while driving through the Owens Valley on trips.
“My father never forgot that the Big Pine Warriors agreed to the game of football when no one else would,” Stephen Niwa said.
Stephen Niwa said his father did not speak much about his experiences at Manzanar, but one of the very fond memories he shared was about the football game and how the Big Pine boys were really something. The Big Pine team played hard and showed good sportsmanship! Ujiaki was so grateful to Big Pine School for playing Manzanar at a time when it was not a popular thing to do.
“The kindness, compassion, courage and sportsmanship displayed by those high school students and staff 75 years ago is still respected and remembered with great affection by he and his family,” Stephen Niwa said.
On Oct. 25 of this year, 75 years to the day of the Big Pine vs. Manzanar football game, Stephen Niwa came back to visit both Manzanar and Big Pine High School. He visited with Big Pine students, staff, administration and board members, as well as John Fansler and several of his family members. John just so happens to be one of Roland Fansler’s boys. Roland was one of the young Big Pine boys who played in that memorable game. It was quite a treat to see two sons meet, both having fathers who competed against one another in that historic event back in 1944.
While visiting at the school, Stephen was able to give much insight on the positive feelings that his father had for the Big Pine School and community.
The staff at Big Pine Schools and the Fansler family are appreciative of Niwa sharing his father’s experience and what it meant to his father and family.
The staff and community also are appreciative of the generous donation Stephen made to the school, which happened to be on the 75th Anniversary of Manzanar vs Big Pine event. Stephen Niwa’s wanting to come back and share his father’s experience with people from Big Pine showed just how kind, compassionate, courageous, and caring the Niwa family was and still is.
The Big Pine community wanted to thank Niwa for all that he has given to the community of Big Pine.