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Buccaneers cheerleader Kojima revels in captain’s role

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Numerous Japanese women have crossed the Pacific to the United States to become cheerleaders for NFL teams. But none have reached as high of a level as Tomoko Kojima.

Kojima was named as one of the four captains for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders for the 2010 season, which kicked off last weekend. She is in charge of one of four lines, with seven cheerleaders in her line.

Kojima, who is embarking on her eighth straight campaign with the team, said in a telephone interview with The Japan Times that she was surprised when she first heard the announcement.

“My goals for this season were to make it for the eighth consecutive year, to become a captain, and to be selected for the Pro Bowl.” Kojima said. “So I was fortunate enough to be able to achieve two of them.”

The club’s process for appointing captaincy was new this year, according to Kojima. While captains were previously designated by the coaches of the squad, a new candidacy system was adopted this spring.

As this was to be her final year as a Bucs cheerleader and it was something she had been willing to do for four years, Kojima quickly raised her hand.

The 32-year-old said she wasn’t quite sure what she was supposed to do to be chosen. She pointed out to the coaches that she was qualified enough to lead the squad.

The biggest obstacle for her was the language barrier. Kojima had always felt inferior when speaking in English and had to fight with herself internally.

“I think I worked on the mental part a lot,” said the native of Osaka Prefecture.

“I would be like, my accent isn’t right, I’m still thinking in Japanese or my word orders are messed up, stuff like that. But even if you don’t speak perfect English, you can convey your message better when speaking up. So I really had to fight my inferiority complex and my shyness.”

Having conquered them, Kojima successfully passed the trials. But there was no room to take a deep breath. As a captain, her teammates will always be watching her.

“In order to go to the Pro Bowl, you have to receive votes from your teammates,” she said. “You can’t get there by just doing your duties as a captain, or because you’ve been here for eight years. I think they watch how you talk to other cheerleaders and your attitude as a captain. So I feel way more responsibility than just a job.”

Asked what her plans after this season are, Kojima said she only has a rough picture at this point but wants to be involved in community activities through sports in Japan.

“Rather than producing a cheerleading team, I’m more interested in helping give energy to communities through sports,” the former X League cheerleader said. “Not just referring to cheerleaders, but over there (in the States) sports are closely tied with communities. I’m hoping to introduce that (in Japan).”