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Chandler City Council Approves Nozomi Park

New park will honor Japanese American baseball in Arizona

Nozomi Park, Chandler, AZCHANDLER, Ariz. (December 19, 2011) -- West Chandler Park in Arizona will get a new name: Nozomi, the Japanese word for hope. On Dec. 15 the Chandler City Council voted 6-1 to approve the name change.

Chandler Parks and Recreation Advisory Board member Bill Staples sought the new name, and secured more than 250 signatures of neighbors on petitions supporting it.

Six years ago he suggested the Nozomi title for a future park site near McQueen and Queen Creek road and the city approved it. Then budget cuts put new park construction on indefinite hold.

Staples has a passion for baseball and the sport's history in Arizona's World War II Japanese internment camps. He wanted to rededicate Nozomi Park in February, the 70th anniversary of the start of Japanese-American internment in Arizona.

Nozomi "was inspired by the game of baseball that was played behind barbed wire in the camps," he said. "The game gave an entire community a sense of hope and normalcy, making life bearable while being unjustly incarcerated by their own country." More than 30,000 American Japanese were detained in Arizona from 1942 until 1945. The Gila River camp was south of Chandler. The Poston camp was near Parker in Western Arizona along the Colorado River.

"By adopting this new name we will honor the past, educate the present, and provide a source of wisdom for future generations," he told the board.

As part of his request, Staples also secured a letter of support from the Japanese American Citizens League that reads, in part, "Several of our 300 JACL Arizona Chapter members were baseball players at the Gila River internment camp and they always smile when they reflect on their days playing ball at camp as it was the only thing they looked forward to participating in while they were confined behind barbed wire. Baseball gave these young men hope so the name Nozomi (Japanese word for hope) would be a perfect way to tie in baseball with an aspect of history that many Arizonans are not aware of."

Not everyone that Staples approached with petitions favors the change, he said, and some were opposed to using a foreign word to name a city facility.

But he said it could help educate park users about part of wartime history and "serve as a reminder that we should be careful in how we respond to those who 'look like the enemy.' "

Councilman Kevin Hartke, a Christian minister, said his Chandler church connected 20 years ago with members of a Japanese church for prayer, fellowship and service. They talked about the internment, "standing together and observing a time when people were wrong," he said.

Hartke said he is impressed by Staples' hard work and the details in his presentation. "It's a park name change; it's not going to change any function . . . and 'hope' is a powerful word."

Mickey Ohland, the city's parks development manager, said Chandler has changed park names before but this would be the first time an existing park took one from a planned facility. West Chandler Park is near Kyrene Road and Chandler Boulevard and has three baseball diamonds.

"The best baseball in Arizona during World War II was played inside these internment camps," Staples said.

He should know. Besides being a Chandler parks board member, Staples is board member of the Nisei Baseball Research Project and author of the biography "Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer." He also is the marketing and communications director for the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

Learn more at www.nozomipark.com.

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