Gibson visits ‘Land of the Rising Sun’

Published 3:23 pm Thursday, April 9, 2009

Some athletes only get the chance to represent their country in international competition if they perform at the highest caliber and become an Olympian.

While he’s not quite an Olympian, Kendall Gibson had the opportunity to represent the United States in the Global Challenge Bowl in Kawasaki, Japan last month.

Gibson got to spend 10 days in the Land of the Rising Sun practicing football, staying with a host family and learning about the Japanese culture.

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“There’s nothing better than playing for the USA,” Gibson said. “It was amazing. I’ve never had butterflies like that before a game before.”

Among all the pre-game festivities, Gibson said the most moving part was the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.

“There’s nothing like hearing the national anthem in a foreign country,” he said.

Team Stars and Stripes got to play Team Japan in front of a sold-out crowd in the stadium and many more at home since the game was nationally televised.

Gibson also had a few hometown supporters at the game.

Jimmy and Wanda Gardner made the trip for the game, along with Ken and Pat Gibson, who stayed for the whole 10 days.

Gibson, who played the entire game at strong-side guard, said they were surprised by the Japanese team.

“They were about my height, but their linemen were 30, 40, 50-pounds heavier,” he said. “They were also very quick and used a lot of trick plays.”

Team Stars and Stripes lost 38-21, but Gibson said he still felt like he played well.

“I had several pancakes in the game,” he said. “We wanted to win but it was still a good experience.”

Much of the team’s time in Japan was spent preparing for the game, but the trip wasn’t all about football.

For part of the trip, the American players stayed with a Japanese host family.

Gibson got to stay with the Fujinura family, who had two high-school age kids, Gino and Reina.

Akemi, the mother of the family, actually spent some time in North Carolina as an exchange student.

“The whole family was pretty fluent in English,” Gibson said. “I got pretty lucky.”

One of the highlights of the trip for Gibson came on a visit to a local high school.

“We visited a high school in Kawasaki, and we all learned some kendo, which is samurai fencing, and calligraphy and kanji,” he said. “That was one of the most fun things we did.”

The players also got to visit Asakura, where they saw a marketplace and Buddhist temples filled with paintings and sculptures.

Gibsons got the chance to eat sushi at one of the local restaurants during the trip.

“I love sushi, and it wasn’t bad,” he said. “I did try squid, and that was terrible.”

The return trip got delayed by a day because of a plane crash at the airport, but Gibson and family eventually made it back home.

“There’s no place like Bama,” he said. “The last day there were some people getting homesick because they couldn’t go home.”

Gibson said he enjoyed the trip to Japan, and wouldn’t mind going back at some point in the future.

“I would go back and take some tours, but I probably wouldn’t stay for two weeks,” he said. “I met some great friends and my host family, and we all had a lot of fun together.”