Sports in the Topaz Internment Camp

To alleviate boredom while interred in the Topaz Relocation Center, the residents organized recreational activities. Some of the most popular pastimes were sports including baseball, golf, and football.

The Topaz Internment Camp was organized in October of 1942 in a desert area near Delta, Utah. The Camp was created to house Japanese Americans, formerly living on the coast of California, after being forcefully relocated during World War II. Japanese Americans were compelled to sell or abandon their homes, cars, and any belongings they could not carry on their person. They first were placed in Tanforan and Santa Anita Racetracks in California in converted horse stables until they were moved again to a more permanent location in Topaz, Utah. Topaz was in operation from September 11, 1942, until October 31, 1945. During that time, the Japanese Americans who lived there struggled to create lives for themselves in this new, remote desert environment.

To help alleviate the boredom, Japanese Americans developed several pastimes. Schools were opened, artists taught their crafts, and sports teams were created. Fans followed their favorite teams. Sports and outdoor recreation became very popular, particularly baseball. Topaz was divided into 42 blocks and each block created its own baseball team. Teams would compete against each other, drawing dozens of spectators. 

The daily sports section in the Topaz Times, the local newspaper, revealed the importance of sporting events at the camp. The Topaz Times included articles about the results of golf tournaments, baseball games, and the high school football team. In addition to local games, the Topaz Times reported on the National Baseball League and other national sporting events. 

Sporting events in Topaz created strong rivalries between blocks in the camp. The most notable rivalry was between the softball teams. Like the baseball teams, the softball teams were organized by blocks and run by managers elected by each block’s players. Softball games were highly anticipated, and each team would practice for several weeks before the competitions. Unfortunately, with young people constantly leaving for the army, school, or work, fully manning each team was a continual struggle. 

The High School fielded many teams that students would compete on. The high school football team traveled and played against other local Utah high schools. Players would also compete against their peers, with a senior football team challenging the juniors and sophomores. The high school also had a track team. In the 1944 season, the track team got off to a late start, but was in full swing by May of that year, competing against students at other Utah high schools.

The time in Topaz was difficult in the lives of the people sent to live there. But they found ways to go on living. To help make the most of a difficult situation, the residents of Topaz showed their resilience by promoting their love of sports and participating in a variety of recreational activities. Something that started as a way to alleviate boredom became a favorite pastime in Topaz, Utah during WWII.

Images

The Baseball Field at Topaz
The Baseball Field at Topaz Source: Photo taken by Anna Tenney
Baseball Game by Mine Okubo
Baseball Game by Mine Okubo Source: Okubo, Mine Baseball game, Central Utah Relocation Project, Topaz, Utah, 1942-1944. Gifted to the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) by the Mine Okubo Estate https://janm.emuseum.com/objects/55706/baseball-game-central-utah-relocation-project-topaz-utah. 
Baseball Article in the Topaz Times
Baseball Article in the Topaz Times Source: Topaz Times. May 13, 1944. Page 7. https://tile.loc.gov/storage-services/service/sgp/sgpbatches/batch_dlc_dupontcircle_ver01/data/sn85040302/00237288750/1944051301/0377.jp2.

Location

Metadata

Anna Tenney, Brigham Young University, “Sports in the Topaz Internment Camp,” Intermountain Histories, accessed April 23, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/660.