If a soccer player shoots and the ball travels at 127 kilometers per hour while on the other hand a cheetah runs 2 kilometers per minute, which is faster?

This is a question included in an arithmetic drill compiled jointly by Kawasaki Frontale and schoolteachers.

The J.League club has distributed copies of the drill to elementary schools in its home city of Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, as part of its efforts to make itself a more familiar part of the local community.

The club is more actively committed to the J.League’s community-oriented business policy than most other clubs.

Haruka Amano, once the club's publicity chief, has published a book about its community outreach efforts.

The team's players, for instance, read picture books to young children. Also, the club often creates a small temporary animal park to entertain children in front of its home stadium.

Kawasaki Frontale imagines itself as a casual eatery that mainly serves local people rather than a luxurious restaurant, according to Amano’s book.

The club’s stadium was filled with fans wearing its light blue uniforms Dec. 2 when it faced Omiya Ardija in a crucial game.

Kawasaki has a long history of coming close to winning the league championship before falling at the final hurdle.

This year, however, the team that has earned the moniker of “perennial second-place finisher” finally won its first J.League title.

Kengo Nakamura, a 37-year-old midfielder who broke down in tears of joy after the game, is also a late bloomer.

Nakamura started playing soccer at elementary school. But he was small for his age, standing at only 136 cm as a first-year junior high school student.

He was often knocked over by a bigger opponent and swiftly caught up with while running.

In his book, Nakamura says, “I’m not a man who has progressed to become a pro player by leaps and bounds.” But the midfielder has been the linchpin of the team.

There is still a wide gap in popularity between the national team of Japan and J.League teams.

It has been said that J.League clubs need to establish a solid, deep-rooted presence in the local community to bridge this gulf.

Kawasaki Frontale is a club that embodies this strategy and has also now achieved a long-cherished dream. Its success may be an inspiration for the entire pro sports community.

Because of its relatively high population turnover, Kawasaki is not a city where it is easy for local residents to develop a sense of belonging, according to Amano.

That’s all the more reason why Kawasaki Frontale wants its supporters to have a sense of unity through rooting for the team, he writes.

It seems there is much more that sports can do for local communities than generally assumed.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 3

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.