Any good athlete obviously needs some measure of speed, strength, and stamina, but the list of necessities starts getting much longer if we’re talking about good student athletes. Youth sports are supposed to be as much about developing character as physical skills, so any proper high school athletic program should want its players to be just as dedicated to sportsmanship and integrity as they are to on-the-field performance.

That’s why we think Fukuoka Prefecture’s Kyushu International University Senior High School (called Kyukoku for short) is doing a fine job with its baseball team, since after a heartbreaking loss on the road, players from Kyukoku immediately started cleaning the stadium.

There are a couple of ways in which high school sports in Japan differ from those in America. In the U.S. you’re guaranteed a number of games as part of the regular season, with the best teams then moving on to playoffs or tournaments. In Japan, though, there is no regular season. You might have a very small number of practice games against other schools, but for the most part Japanese youth athletics are all about tournaments, and in the case of Koshien, the twice-yearly national high school baseball tournament, when you lose once, you’re done.

The games receive intense media attention, with national television, radio, and newspaper coverage. Some heroes of Koshien have used success in the competition as a springboard to professional baseball careers, and for the games, held at Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Hyogo Prefecture, it’s not unusual for large groups of alumni, the current student body, and underclassman members of the team (Japanese high schools don’t usually have separate freshman or junior varsity teams) to make the trip to cheer for the alma mater.

This year, Kyukoku fielded a strong team, and its victory in regional playoffs won it a spot in the national tournament. The team turned in a solid 2-0 victory against Tokushima Prefecture’s Naruto High School in the tournament opener, then staged a dramatic rally in the bottom of the ninth to triumph over Osaka’s Kaisei Academy by a score of 10 to 9 in its next outing. Kyukoku then defeated Tochigi Prefecture’s Sakushin Gakuin 2-0 in the third round, which put the team in the quarterfinals, a feat no high school from Fukuoka has accomplished in the past 15 years.

Unfortunately, in that much-anticipated game Kyukoku quickly fell behind in its 2-0 to opponent and West Tokyo representative Waseda Jitsugyo. That gap widened to 6-0 by the end of the fourth inning, and this time there would be no come-from-behind victory for the kids from Kyushu, as the tournament, and for some seniors likely their organized baseball careers, ended in an 8-1 loss.

Heightened emotions are always on display at the end of Koshien games, with cameras capturing scenes of the victors rejoicing and the losers tearing up at not having been able to do enough to help their teammates come out on top. But while Japan may not agree with the rule that there’s no crying in baseball, the country is less accepting of leaving a mess for others to take care off, so no sooner was the contest decided than spectators noticed Kyukoku players cleaning up the stadium.

It’s not clear whether these uniformed teens had just stepped off the field or if they were underclassman players cheering their older teammates on from the stands, but either way the sentiment is clear. While Kyukoku’s dream may have come to a sudden end, the tournament wasn’t over for Waseda Jitsugyo, nor the other teams left in the contest. What’s more, Koshien is hallowed ground in the Japanese baseball world, and so showing proper respect by leaving it as clean as when they’d arrived was a matter of course.

On its website, Kyukoku asserts that:

“We don’t want our students to spend their entire time at high school only studying, but also making memories at Kyukoku that will last for a lifetime.”

It’s an admirable declaration, and the actions of these mature-beyond-their-years teens shows that the philosophy is helping to nurture courteousness and initiative in its students that will serve them well in whatever life has in store for them, even a career in professional baseball.

Sources: Toychan, Kyushu International University Junior and Senior High School (1, 2, 3, 4), Koko, Twitter/@mmhsysh238obt