Tito Soriano still remembers his first trip to Japan for the Pacific Rim Bowl. It’s hard to forget. Besides walking through buildings that are centuries older than any in the U.S. and touring the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, the assistant football coach and former player was humbled even before leaving Ashland, having lost his passport.
As a Grizzly player, Scott Chadick had a similarly frightening experience when, following his first practice in Kobe, Japan, he learned he was one of four players the coaching staff determined could handle staying with a host family alone, without a Grizzly teammate to help solve the day-to-day mysteries of living in a foreign land.
Both longtime Ashland coaches recounted those stories after learning in a surprise, informal announcement Friday that they would be inducted into the Pacific Rim Bowl Hall of Fame during the team’s upcoming trip to Japan for Pacific Rim Bowl XV. The game that pits the Ashland varsity football team against a collection of Japanese all-stars every other year at alternating sites will be held July 28 in Kobe.
“Complete surprise,” said Soriano, who played for the first Ashland team to host Japan in 1990 and has crossed the Pacific for the game six times going on seven. “I’ve been a part of it for so long. I’ve got some really great relationships with coaches and administrators from Japan, so to be tied to it lifelong is just an honor.”
Chadick, who will be making his fourth trip to Japan, agreed.
“It’s a great honor; very privileged,” Chadick said, adding that the PRB, to him, represents the relationships the game has helped forge over the years.
“Just great comradery,” he said, “not only between the players but the coaches, too. It’s good to see (the Japanese coaches) every time. Some change from time to time, but a lot of them are still there. I remember a few from when I first went over as a coach, and they’re still there. They’re the nicest people in the world when you go over there, and we try to do the same here when they come.”
The announcement was made Friday morning in the home-side bleachers at Walter A. Phillips Field, where the players, dressed in game jerseys, had assembled for what they thought was a team photo shoot. Former Ashland head coach Charlie Hall was on hand to introduce another former Grizzly coach, Jim Nagel, who then surprised first Soriano then Chadick with the HOF announcement. A more formal ceremony will take place in Japan before the game.
Before revealing the purpose of his visit, Nagel explained to the Grizzlies the significance of the game.
“Amazingly, I’ve seen guys that have played at the professional levels and done great things, and it’s still a highlight in their career,” he said, “so that tells you how important this event really is. I feel honored and blessed to have been a part of it for so many years and I’m really excited about getting the opportunity to go back once again.”
Both Soriano and Chadick spoke for a few minutes before posing for pictures with the team while holding a commemorative PRB plaque originally presented to Ashland from the Japanese prior to the Grizzlies’ first game on the school’s newly refurbished field last September.
Once Soriano and Chadick are officially inducted the PRB Hall will be six members strong — the others are co-founders Nagel and Akira Furukara, Japanese athletic administrator Kenjiro Ishiki and former Ashland great Chad Cota.
Ashland head coach Beau Lehnerz, who was named Hall’s replacement April 21, said the Grizzly coaching staff, sans the two new HOFers, discussed the news recently and decided it was important to honor Soriano and Chadick on their home turf before the team shoves off for Japan.
Now, the Grizzlies have only a few weeks to tie up loose ends and begin to prepare for the game before flying out of Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport July 23.
To abide by OSAA rules the Grizzlies will have five days of full-contact practices in Ashland July 16-20, then four more in Japan before using their 10th and final allotted helmet day to play the game itself, which is technically a scrimmage. Ashland pulled away in the second half to win Pacific Rim Bowl XIV, 31-23, on Aug. 1, 2015 at Raider Stadium. That was the third straight PRB win for the Grizzlies, who lead the all-time series 8-6.
This year’s PRB itinerary includes a trip to Osaka to attend the Tenjin Matsuri Festival, considered the world’s greatest boat festival; a trip to Kyoto to see the Kinkaku-ji temple, whose history dates back to 1397; and a trip via bullet train, to Hiroshima to take in Atomic Memorial Peace Park and the museum.
Forty-one players and 10 coaches and staff members will represent Ashland in Japan this year, according to Serena Robinson, who’s heading up Ashland’s fundraising effort. The entire trip costs the team $112,000. Most of that is covered by various fundraisers, such as the auction that was held May 6 (it netted $26,000), but each player has a personal goal of raising $2,000 to cover their own expenses.
Lehnerz said there’s still a lot to do before the players can start packing their bags, but he’s confident they’ll be ready to go when the time comes.
“We’ve got a solid group of older guys but a big group of younger kids that are either inexperienced or just young, so we’re trying to get them coached up and taking baby steps,” said Lehnerz, who’ll be making his third trip to Japan. “The good thing is they’re athletic so as far as the football part goes, we’re working hard at that. Then we’re doing Japanese cultural lessons with the kids …and finalizing plane tickets, roommates. I feel like there’s a lot of stuff that’s not football, but then again we’ll start our passing leagues and stuff so we’ll get some more experience before we get going.”
When asked to name his favorite part of the trip, Lehnerz said hearing from the players about what it was like for them is always a highlight.
“I feel like they see Japan in textbooks or whatever and they think they have an idea what to expect,” he said, “but when they get over there they’re immersed and it’s just cool to hear about how they experience everything.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.