Friendly softball competition highlights Marine, Okinawan friendship
CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan -- Shouts echo across the field as a Marine slides to a hard stop amid a cloud of dirt, just beating a tag and stealing a base. His teammates clap and offer words of encouragement as the next batter takes his position against a Kin Town softball pitcher.
Both teams are sweating and the sounds of heavy breathing can be heard from the stands as the pitcher begins his windup. Though the game is just friendly competition, it is clear both teams are determined to win.
Marines and local members of the Okinawan community participated in the annual Camp Hansen softball tournament Nov. 1 at Camp Hansen as part of a community relations project.
The tournament is just one of many community relations events that strengthen friendships between the U.S. and Okinawan communities. In addition to the tournament, Marines have also participated in or held beach cleanups, camp tours, holiday celebrations at local nurseries, dragon boat races.
Two teams of Marines, one from 3rd Intelligence Battalion, III Marine Headquarters Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, and one from various units around Camp Hansen, competed against six teams consisting of local Okinawans from various groups and organizations, including teams from Kin Town, Ginoza Village, Onna Village, Ishikawa Police Department and the Okinawa Defense Bureau.
The tournament was organized in a traditional single-elimination fashion with quarter-final and semi-final rounds held to determine the two teams that would compete for the championship.
“This is another great opportunity to build upon the already strong relationship we have with the local communities,” said Takayuki Kayo, a community relations specialist with Camp Hansen . “A lot of people know the camp is here, but have never been inside it. This is a good opportunity to invite local Okinawans to see the camp and enjoy themselves with the Marines.”
The tournament has been an ongoing event for many years now, and some feel it should continue to be a permanent annual event, according to Kayo, an Okinawa native.
“This community relations project will continue into the future because it has proven to be so successful,” said Kayo.
Every year Okinawans and Marines line the bleachers to cheer. The competition is always fierce, and the teams are so close in skill the games are decided by a margin of a few runs, according to Kayo.
“All the teams here today really enjoyed themselves and played well,” said Hiroki H. Igei, a police officer and member of the Ishikawa Police Department softball team, and native of Okinawa. “Sometimes you may miss the ball or not run fast enough to be safe at a base, but we all try our best and I think that’s the most important thing when playing.”
The championship game was a showdown between the 3rd Intel Bn., and the Kin Town office team. As the game progressed, despite Kin Town’s best efforts, 3rd Intel Bn. continued to score runs and ultimately won the game 19-4.
“We all played a great game for the championship,” said Staff Sgt. Cory J. Marcus, from Kansas City, Kansas, and an aviation meteorological equipment technician with the 3rd Intel Bn. “In the end we took the trophy again this year, but it is important to remember the real victory is not the win, but our ability to come together and share a great time with our Okinawan friends.”