Get the ball rolling: Kadena Special Olympics

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U.S. Air Force Capt. Ryan Witzig, event volunteer assigned to Kadena Air Base, Japan, high-fives Misono, sports participant, during the 12th annual Kadena Special Olympics bowling competition Oct. 1, 2016, at Enagic Bowl, Okinawa, Japan. The bowling event is part of a multi-day KSO for special needs family members of both U.S. service members and Okinawans. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)
U.S. Air Force Capt. Ryan Witzig, event volunteer assigned to Kadena Air Base, Japan, high-fives Misono, sports participant, during the 12th annual Kadena Special Olympics bowling competition Oct. 1, 2016, at Enagic Bowl, Okinawa, Japan. The bowling event is part of a multi-day KSO for special needs family members of both U.S. service members and Okinawans. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft)

Get the ball rolling: Kadena Special Olympics

by: Senior Airman Peter Reft, 18th Wing Public Affairs | .
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published: October 07, 2016

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- More than 100 volunteers from U.S. military bases and surrounding communities on Okinawa hosted the 12th annual Kadena Special Olympics bowling tournament at the Enagic Bowl center at American Village last week.

Special needs individuals from schools around the island smiled, giggled, laughed and cheered as they bowled for top spots in multiple competitions held throughout the day.

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish, 18th Wing commander, presided over the first of three events and greeted the first round of bowling participants.

“Thank you for joining us today to celebrate the 12th annual Kadena Special Olympics bowling tournament,” said Cornish. “To all of our athletes here, I hope you have a wonderful day, make new friends, and have a great time.”

Smiling participants selected their bowling balls, trotted to their assigned lanes, and wiggled in their seats, as they waited for the start of the tournament.

For wheelchair-bound children and others with limited mobility, volunteers catered to every need and helped with the use of bowling ramps.

“I’ve been working the bowling event for ten years and love every minute,” said Bryan Cawthorne, KSO volunteer and retired Navy Petty Officer 1st Class. “The best thing about volunteering for the KSO is seeing the smiles on the participants’ faces.”

Family members cheered on the participants as bowling pins tumbled at the end of the lanes.

Satoshi, one of the participants, struck heroic poses as he pointed to the end of the lane while his ball rolled toward its target. Volunteers gave high-fives as he proudly stomped off the approach to check his score.

Aishu, another participant, received a celebratory kiss on her cheek from an Okinawan boy after she scored points on a throw. She stood still in a smiling daze as her parents laughed and guided her back to her seat.

Volunteers and parents mingled as cultures blended into one large community gathering. Everyone was dedicated to celebrating the athletic efforts of special needs individuals of both U.S. and Japanese families.

Cornish reflected on how the KSO achieved Kadena’s top community outreach program during the past 17 years.

“It’s a great representation of what’s important to us and what we value as military professionals,” Cornish said. “Because we admire most the dedication, resiliency, perseverance and courage of individuals in the face of adversity, it’snatural we admire these special athletes.”

Hisashi Shimabukuro, KSO volunteer and relative to a special needs child, recently became involved after attending his first event two years ago.

“At first I was nervous, but after some time I became relaxed and enjoyed everybody smiling, supporting the events and communicating with American volunteers,” said Shimabukuro. “We have been to two main Special Olympics, and this is our first time here [for bowling].”

Watching volunteers and participants smiling and exchanging high-fives made Shimabukuro happy and motivated him to volunteer for KSO events, he added.

At the end of the first round of bowling tournaments, Cornish and other Kadena leaders awarded participants with medals and posed in group photos with them for family members.

“I love everything about the Kadena Special Olympics and especially spending time with the athletes and awarding them medals,” said Cornish. “You can see in their eyes that they really appreciate being acknowledged and rewarded for their work.”

The next major KSO events are the art exhibit Oct. 13 to 16 at the Aeon Mall Rycom, followed by the main sports event Nov. 5 at Kadena AB.

For more information and possible changes due to weather, follow the “Kadena Special Olympics – KSO” Facebook page.