translated and edited by Brett Larner
Having developed Kojokan H.S. of Ihara, Okayama into an ekiden powerhouse with two National High School Girls Ekiden Championships titles under his leadership with an all-star cast of alumni including London Olympians Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.) and Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya), head coach Yoshitoshi Morimasa has announced that he will leave the team to take over as head coach at the Toto women's corporate team in Kita-Kyushu beginning in April. On Feb. 4 members of the Okayama athletics community and local residents in Ihara held an event to honor Morimasa for his many years of accomplishment. With his successor still in training, Morimasa will remain associated with the team in an advisory capacity.
Okayama Track and Field Association director Yasuhisa Kandatsu hailed Morimasa, calling him, "The single biggest contributor to high school girls' athletics in Okayama prefecture." Morimasa became head coach at Kojokan H.S in 1999, and under his outstanding leadership the student athletes developed their abilities to the utmost, making the National High School Girls Ekiden Championships fifteen years straight starting right from Morimasa's first year. They won the national title in 2005 and 2010, and with last year's runner-up finish they completed a ten-year streak of podium finishes [top three], an unparalleled achievement. As the head coach of the Okayama prefecture team for the National Women's Ekiden Championships each January Morimasa has also been involved in training junior athletes. Director Kandatsu said, "It's very unfortunate that he is leaving us, but I'm proud that he has shown the rest of the country a mightier Okayama."
According to an involved party, a Kojokan alum set to graduate from university this spring will take over Morimasa's position as head coach, with Morimasa acting in parallel with his duties at Toto to help develop and train his successor. In 2016 Okayama will serve as the main venue for the Central Japan High School Championships. Prefectural High School Sports Association director Naoshi Kamachi commented, "He is essential to the world of Okayama high school sports. It is crucial that we retain his knowhow and preserve the competitive edge he brought us."
In the town of Ihara where Kojokan H.S. is located, voices were also raised to wish Morimasa the best in his new locale. Having traveled to the National High School Girls Ekiden Championships in support every year since Kojokan first qualified, former mayor Gen Tanimoto, 78, sent his best wishes, saying, "At the celebration party for the team's 2nd-place finish, Coach Morimasa was in tears. I wonder whether he was really ready to say goodbye. I hope he makes an impact in the corporate leagues."
Kojokan H.S. Track and Field Alumni Association director Seiji Shitaki, 61, lent his support, saying, "He has said for a long time, 'Once I'm done with high school sports I want to take a shot at becoming number one in Japan in the corporate leagues.' I hope the whole region will support Coach Morimasa and all the Kojokan staff more than ever."