Photo/Illutration The opening ceremony of the summer National High School Baseball Championship is held on Aug. 6, 2019, at Hanshin Koshien Stadium. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Many junior and senior high school students in Japan who have devoted themselves to school club activities must now be struggling with depressing feelings of loss, disappointment and frustration.

This summer’s Inter-High School Athletic Meet, a comprehensive national high school sports festival, as well as the similar annual sports event for junior high school students have been canceled because of the new coronavirus outbreak. The summer National High School Baseball Championship has also been knocked off the calendar, for the first time since the end of World War II.

The impact of the health crisis is also being felt by students and educators involved in music and other non-sports school clubs. School brass band competitions and choral competitions sponsored by Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), the public broadcaster, have also been called off.

The national high school cultural festival, however, may be held in an unusual way. Organizers have decided against holding the event at halls and other specific venues as usual, but are considering internet-based methods, such as online exhibitions of works and live streaming of performances.

It is painful to imagine the profound disappointment and inconsolable sorrow being felt by students who have been deprived of important opportunities to show the results of their years of efforts to improve their abilities and skills together with other club members through friendly rivalries.

The state of emergency has been lifted in most prefectures and schools have been reopened. But it is too early to let down our guard.

It is a tall order to ensure sufficient measures to prevent infections at all regional qualifiers and then safely hold national events that involve commuting and gatherings of many people.

The series of decisions to cancel these championships and contests reflect the enormity of the challenges involved in holding large-scale sports and culture events under the current circumstances.

School educators and instructors need to pay maximum attention to the physical and mental conditions of affected students so that they can provide the necessary care.

Probably, they have already communicated caring messages to such students in various ways and started monitoring their conditions for any significant changes. But a sense of loss could manifest itself unexpectedly at any time.

In particular, third-year students who have been working hard for the “last chance” to achieve their goals may need special attention to the pain they are feeling.

Online events for competition and exchanges like those under consideration for the high school cultural festival are good ideas suitable for this era. Some prefectures are exploring possibilities of holding events on the prefectural level.

Such events, even if they are modest, low-profile ones held at school gyms and fields, could give students memorable experiences of sharing quality time with friends and teammates.

Measures to prevent infection with the virus are essential even for such small-scale events. School club activities tend to create many dangerous “sanmitsu” situations, where many people come in close contact with each other in a closed environment.

Effective guidelines tailored to the conditions of specific sports and club activities are vital for holding such events safely.

Records of students’ school club activities have also been used as part of the materials for selecting successful applicants for high school and university entrance examinations.

The other day, the education ministry issued notices to universities and education boards across the nation urging them to take steps to ensure that students will not be put at a disadvantage at entrance exams because of the cancellations of sports and cultural events.

The current situation should be used as an opportunity for serious debate in the education community on improved school admission processes based on multifaceted and comprehensive evaluations of individual students’ efforts and development.

The same can be said of the corporate recruitment process.

Needless to say, school club activities offer great opportunities for students to make friends and train themselves to enjoy sports and culture for many years.

During the school closures, some new approaches to school activities, such as online meetings and training sessions, have been tested at many schools.

These challenging times could be turned into opportunities to renew the recognition of the value of school club activities for students of all ages and improve the ways daily club activities and operations are carried out.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 21