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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — More than 400 athletes and 700 volunteers from the greater Tokyo area will gather here this weekend for the 27th annual Kanto Plain Special Olympics.

Opening ceremonies unfold at 9:15 a.m. Saturday with a “Parade of Hope” on Yokota High School’s Bong Field. The games are scheduled to end at 4 p.m. Sunday.

“What makes this event so special in Japan is that all the scores for every athlete are officially recorded and used to qualify for the International Special Olympic Games,” said Tech. Sgt. Melody Tice-Baird, the Kanto Plain Special Olympics director. “The rules are very stringent in order to meet the international qualification requirements for each event.”

About 75 percent of Japanese schools on the Kanto Plain send competitors, she said, while roughly a quarter of Department of Defense Dependents Schools in the region will participate, with athletes representing Camp Zama, Yokosuka Naval Base and Yokota.

Events at Bonk Field both days include the 50- and 100-meter dashes, 200- and 400-meter runs, 400-meter relay, mile, standing long jump and softball throw. Basketball is to be held at 1:15 p.m. Saturday at the Yokota Middle School Gym.

Other highlights on tap Sunday: bowling at Tomodachi Lanes and swimming at the base natatorium, both set for 10 a.m. to noon.

No road closures are expected for the two-day event, said base officials, but residents and visitors should exercise caution around venues.

In 1968, The Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation established the Special Olympics. The Non-Commissioned Officers Association started the Kanto Plain Special Olympics at Yokota in 1980 with just three DODDS participants.

Four years later, the Kanto Plain Special Olympics became a private organization and remains the only program in Japan sanctioned by Special Olympics International in Washington, according to Tice-Baird, who’s been a volunteer for 10 years.

“It’s a unique experience that touches your heart when you see them overcome their disabilities, achieve their goal by competing and have fun doing it,” she said. “The smiles, high-fives and hugs from the athletes as they compete during their events make everything you do for them worth it.”

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