Campus News Editor
As the sun sets on Springfield College and the cats come out from their hiding spots, 20 students gather under the Field House roof to play the ancient sport of table tennis.
Amid the chaos of baseball players stretching before lift and joggers strutting their stuff around the track, the students huddle around a smiling figure, a “hero” per se.
This figure is none other than Takehiro Iwatsuki, but everyone just calls him Hiro.
Born and raised in Aichi, Japan, a province between Osaka and Tokyo, Hiro came to Springfield College to study English and earn a Master’s degree in Athletic Counseling after graduating from Nihon University with a Bachelor’s in Physical Education.
“My Japanese professor came here several years ago and researched with my professor here, Judy Van Raalte,” stated Iwatsuki, who is in his second year of his graduate program. “That is how I found out about SC, otherwise I probably would never have even heard of it.”
Counseling is a tough and challenging program for people who speak English as their first language; therefore, it gets even harder for some who speak Japanese.
However, Hiro finds a way to balance graduate classes, research, athletic counseling for multiple teams on campus, teaching skills classes, assistant coaching for the Pride’s men’s tennis team and even winning last year’s Talent Show. As a member of the all-male graduate student boy band, Bellevue, Hiro and his friends won the first annual Pride’s Got Talent show last year. Beating out now Springfield alum Pat Boone’s beatboxing and the women’s volleyball team, Bellevue stole the show and the hearts of the crowd.
“Hiro is an inspiration for students and faculty,” said Van Raalte, the co-director of the Athletic Counseling Master’s program at Springfield. “He balances everything he does very well, while still making time for friends. Needless to say, Hiro works extremely hard.”
Hiro, who travels back to Japan once every 18 months, attributes all of his hard work and research to Toby Coffin, the head coach for the men’s and women’s tennis team, as well as the director of the International Center, Deborah Alm, who he says helped him with his English and adjustment to Springfield.
Changing cultures and your everyday lifestyle is a difficult feat, one that Hiro makes look all too easy.
“People are so open [in the United States],” said Iwatsuki. “In Japan, we don’t make eye contact unless we know the person, and it’s kind of awkward to say hi. It’s more free and open here.”
Despite the cultural shift and above all his research and hard work, there is one trait that remains consistent and memorable for all who step into Hiro’s presence: his contagious and constant smile.
“I’m a very easy-going person,” said Iwatsuki. “I have never really thought about it before. It’s better than being angry because there is no need for anger.”
This lifestyle and philosophy emit spirit, mind and body, proving that those words aren’t just a Springfield College tradition, but an international way of living.
“Hiro balances spirit, mind and body and also has a killer volley,” said Van Raalte.
After getting his Master’s degree in Athletic Counseling, Hiro plans to enroll in a doctoral program and eventually become a college professor, smiling all the way.
As students gather to learn the art of table tennis, it is their professor’s ever-present smile and dedication that keep everyone motivated and inspired to be just like the “Hiro” in front of their eyes.
Pat Kenney can be reached at email@example.com