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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — More than 900 special-needs athletes and artists are set to participate in the 5th annual Kadena Special Olympics on Saturday at Kadena High School.

The games take place at the high school stadium from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

More than 5,000 people are expected to attend the games, which will feature 30-meter and 200-meter races, a wheelchair softball throw and other track and field events, said Chip Steitz, an 18th Wing Public Affairs spokesman and the event’s fund development director.

“This year’s games will also feature floor hockey,” Steitz said. “One of our goals is to develop teams to compete for spots in at the 2005 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.”

Besides the athletes at Saturday’s games, there will be an exhibit showcasing art by close to 200 special-needs individuals.

More than 1,500 volunteers and 400 interpreters will help ensure Saturday’s event runs smoothly, Steitz said.

The games kick off with a parade of athletes followed by an opening ceremony and remarks by 18th Wing commander Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Remington and Okinawa Vice Governor Shigemasa Higa.

A special guest at the games will be popular K-1 fighter Bob “The Beast” Sapp, a former NFL player who quickly is becoming a legend in the Japanese professional fighting league.

“I am looking forward to game day to share in the spirit of the Special Olympics,” Sapp said after agreeing to appear at the event. “Special Olympics on Okinawa serves as an inspiration to all of us throughout the world.”

The event is sponsored by the 18th Wing and the Friends of Kadena Special Olympics, in partnership with the Okinawa prefectural government, Okinawa City, Kadena Town, Chatan Town and all U.S. military services on the island.

“The Friends of Kadena Special Olympics is a chartered private volunteer organization of military and civilian volunteers dedicated to enriching the lives of special-needs individuals,” Steitz said. “The Kadena games would not have been possible without the generous contributions of numerous corporations, private organizations and individuals.”

So far, $40,000 in cash has been raised, he said.

“Also our corporate sponsors have made generous donations in goods,” he said.

The Special Olympics was founded in the United States in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and since has become an international, year-round program of sports training and competition for individuals with intellectual disabilities. More than one million athletes in more than 150 countries train and compete in 26 Olympics-type summer and winter sports.

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