Return to Headlines

Laredo Middle School teams sweep the 2019 Japan Cup

Laredo Middle School Japan Cup students Cherry Creek School District students have racked up impressive records in academics, athletics, activities and the arts. But few can match the unique accomplishment of Laredo Middle School Japan Cup teams.

For nine – count ‘em nine – years  in a row, LMS teams have won first place in Level 1 of the Japan Cup, a competition for middle school, high school and college students in Colorado and Wyoming. And this year, Laredo teams not only earned first place, but claimed second and third place as well.

Congratulations to these Laredo Japan Cup teams:
•    1st place: Riley Bullock, Jueun Kang, Nia Meyer
•    2nd place: Bailey Weber, Jaida Smith, David Castorena
•    3rd place: Katherine Maurelli, Ryan Lie, Amelia Williams

“We were really excited and all freaked out,” said Jueun Kang, a member of the first place team. All three Laredo teams are made up of eighth grade students.

Sponsored by the Japan America Society of Colorado, the Japan Cup is an annual competition that covers a wide variety of subject matter ranging from current events to Japanese grammar.

“The kids have to know Kanji,” said LMS Japanese teacher, Miwako Winters, a native of Japan who has been teaching at Laredo for the past 11 years. She explained that Kanji are the adopted Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system. But that’s not all Japan Cup competitors need to know.

“They have to know idiomatic expressions, they have to know history, they have to know culture and they have to know language as well,” Winters added.

The Japan Cup’s Level I is for middle and high school students who are relatively new to the study of Japanese. They cannot be native Japanese speakers, have a parent who is from Japan or have spent more than three months in the Asian nation.

At the Japan Cup, students compete in two rounds. The first is called the “pen round” and students have to write their answers within 20 seconds. The second, or “bell round,” is an oral round where teams try to be the first to ring the bell and answer the question correctly.

This year’s Japan Cup was held on April 20 at Front Range Community College in Westminster. Laredo was one of only two middle schools that participated. The rest of the Level I competitors were all high school teams. But students quickly discovered that regardless of grade level, everyone had a few butterflies.

“All the teams were a nervous wreck at the beginning of the preliminary round,” recalled LMS eighth grader Riley Bullock, also a member of the first place team. “I think that put us all at ease when we realized that we were all nervous.”

Laredo Middle School Japan Cup students Bullock and his teammates, Kang and Nia Meyer, agree that the stress was worth it.

“It was worthwhile because of the exprience I got out of it, the new friends I have and all the Japanese I learned,” Nia Meyer said.

“Japan Cup was definitely so much fun and having good teammates that I knew would do their part just made the experience so much better,” Kang said.

All three students credit their sensei, or teacher, Ms. Winters, for their success. She held an afterschool homework club once a week during most of the school year, and made it available five days a week leading up to the cup.

“She’s pretty strict, but that helps us be better students and trying to meet her expectations really helped us prepare for the Japan Cup,” Kang said.

“With all of us being a little bit jumpy, her strictness has helped us straighten out and become more focused on our studies, and that helps overall, not just in Japanese,” Bullock added.

Winters, on the other hand, gives all the credit to her students.

“They know that Japanese is the most difficult language for American students to master, but they chose to take my class, so their motivation was high in the first place,” she said proudly.

Winters has had many former students go on to study Japanese in high school and college, with some even majoring in Japanese and one earning a graduate degree in Japan, then getting a job and settling there. All three of her 2019 first place winners plan to continue their pursuit of Japanese fluency, and Bullock says he may use it in his future career.

“I think I’d like to join the military as a translator or in linguistics. Japanese and  Arabic are really big,” he said.

Congratulations to the Laredo Middle School Japan Cup teams!

Posted 5/8/2019.