The other day some friends from high school alerted me to the fact that legendary Pacific Stars & Stripes Sports reporter Dave Ornauer was compiling a list of the top Far East basketball players of the last 25 years and was kind enough to remember me and some of my friends. It reminded me that Ornauer or Orny as he's known to his friends along with Northwest Airlines was due for a long overdue thank you.
Every town should be lucky enough to have an Orny-an adult who cares as much about high school sports as the players do. Only Orny's town is the entire Far East, or more specifically those of us who were fortunate enough to grow up there as expatriates and compete against each other in high school basketball. After competing within our various regions (Japan, Guam, Korea etc.) we would meet up once a year often on the island of Okinawa to compete for the coveted Far East Championship trophy. We'd live in the barracks with American forces stationed overseas, eat with them in the mess, get haircuts with them and play lots of basketball. And Orny was the reporter of record for all the festivities.
But the fall of 1985 was a dark time for our beloved tournament. The Gramm-Rudman budget cutting act had passed congress and Caspar Weinberger was about to live up to the nickname he had earned in California under then Governor Reagan-"Cap The Knife." Since the tourney was sponsored by the Defense Department, it had been targeted for budget cuts and it was decided that 1986 -- my senior year -- would see no boys Far East basketball tournament.
And then Orny went to work.
Writing in the Stars & Stripes, Orny voiced our dreams and disappointments, lamenting the fact that there would be no tournament for those of us who had faithfully gone to them as children, and practiced our hearts out so that one day we too could be in the show.
And then magic happened. An executive at Northwest Airlines read the story and the Airline agreed to fund the tournament. We were back in action and the tournament proceeded as scheduled.
Northwest Airlines won the lifetime allegiance of hundreds of us and we also became lifetime admirers of a sports reporter named Dave Ornauer who was never too busy or too immersed in the world of adults to remember what it was like to be a kid and have a dream.
So to Dave, and a classy airline, Northwest, thanks. You taught us important lessons about making dreams come true and helping others.
We'll always remember.
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