Floor hockey teammates prepare at Okinawa Koto-yogo high school Thursday for the upcoming World Games in Nagano, Japan.

Floor hockey teammates prepare at Okinawa Koto-yogo high school Thursday for the upcoming World Games in Nagano, Japan. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

After training for four years, Okinawa special-needs students will compete for a championship on the same ground where the world’s greatest athletes once found Olympic glory.

The 14 students from Okinawa Koto-yogo high school in Gushikawa City will compete in floor hockey at the Winter World Games, to be held Feb. 26 to March 5 in Nagano, Japan, the second world games held by Special Olympics.

The students have put in much hard work over the past few years, said Ayako Kinjo, team coach and Okinawa Special Olympics chief of sports programs.

“It’s been great watching them improve their skills, and it’s been great watching them grow as people,” Kinjo said.

The team received almost $40,000 in donations and equipment from the Air Force, Marine Corps and several American companies over the past four years, said Okinawa Special Olympics board member Chip Steitz.

Their donations greatly helped the team’s effort to prepare for Nagano, Steitz said.

Team captain Tomoyo Takue, 18, first began playing floor hockey two years ago. Like most of the other players, he was unfamiliar with the sport, he said, but soon began having fun.

“I like interacting with my teammates and the other teams as well,” Takue said.

The team has played in several big games leading up to the World Games, including national games last year against China. Although outsized, Okinawa was the only team at the tournament to score against the Chinese, to the delight of the home Japanese crowd, team officials said.

Some of the smaller athletes and girls on the team, such as Rieko Touyama, 18, have learned to use their speed to make up for the size difference.

“I was afraid they were going to bump into me. They were huge,” Touyama said. “Now, I’m a lot more comfortable and I have confidence.”

Servicemembers have donated their time to Kadena Special Olympics events throughout the past five years; some, like Air Force Reserve Capt. Colin Sewake, have gone a little further by helping out at team practices off base.

“What attracts me to this is the whole concept of community,” Sewake said. “It’s not just the four services — it’s the individuals and the businesses coming and donating their time, money and effort.”

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