U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Garry Dean, Air Forces Northern commander, tosses out the ceremonial first pitch during opening ceremonies of the 2011 U.S. Specialty Sports Association Military World Tournament at Frank Brown Park, Panama City Beach, Aug. 18, 2011. The event draws teams from across the Department of Defense and for the first time, drew an overseas team from Kunsan Air Base, Korea. (Photo by Nikki Hilbert)
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Garry Dean, Air Forces Northern commander, receives an honorary baton from retired Command Sgt. Maj. Russell McDaniel of the Special Operations Command Para-Commandos parachute team. During the team's descent, a baton is passed between the team members prior to landing on their designated spot. The baton-passing is a tradition among military parachute teams that began more than 50 years ago to prove such a feat could be accomplished by jumpers in mid-air. (Courtesy photo)
8/26/2011 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Amidst a background of American and U.S. military service flags, and flanked by tournament players and their audience supporters, the commander of 1st Air Force ceremoniously delivered the first pitch of the 2011 United States Specialty Sports Association Military World Tournament Thursday afternoon at Frank Brown Park in Panama City Beach, Fla.
Maj. Gen. Garry C. Dean, who also commands the Continental U.S. NORAD Region and Air Forces Northern, was asked by tournament officials to throw out the symbolic first pitch in front of a crowd of more than 2,000 people.
This year, the annual three-day, slow-pitch tournament fielded 86 teams and included approximately 1,200-1,500 players and their families from across the Department of Defense. The event also included two exhibition games featuring the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball team.
Michael Reeves, one of the local event coordinators from the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group at Tyndall AFB, has been involved with the tournament in various capacities for the past 19 years.
This was also the first year an overseas team - from Kunsan Air Base, Korea - was able to participate, thanks to the assistance from one of the event's sponsors.
Other invited guests included the Wounded Warrior Riders, who rode onto the field with American flags streaming from their motorcycles.
"I love the whole tournament because it's such a fantastic experience," Reeves said. "It's like a huge family reunion because of the military aspect, and it's an opportunity to reconnect with people you knew from past softball tournaments but separated from because of military moves. I've met people I haven't seen in 10 or 12 years, and it's a great time where the camaraderie just overflows."
There was plenty of evidence of that camaraderie as many of the arriving players anxiously greeted one another with hugs and heartfelt handshakes. Once greetings were exchanged, the players proceeded to the field for a solemn wreath-laying ceremony and invocation.
The opening ceremony also featured a two-ship F-4 flyover and a parachute exhibition by the U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute team. Following the SOCOM demonstration, team member retired Command Sergeant Major Russell McDaniel presented the general with a baton the team members passed to each other during their descent onto the field.
According to Brian Carson, the community relations officer with U.S. Special Operations Command, the reason batons are handed out by military parachute teams goes back into skydiving history. Carson said around 1958, a belief existed that it was physically impossible for two jumpers to fly their bodies together and make contact. To disprove the belief, Americans Lyle Hoffman and James Pearson jumped separately over Vancouver Canada with one of them holding a baton. When they landed, the other had the baton. Now the presentation is part of skydiving custom.
"I was honored to be asked to participate in such a noteworthy event," Dean said. "These kinds of activities not only bring our community together, they showcase the brilliant athletic ability and professional dedication of our men and women across the Department of Defense - it was truly a privilege."
Following the official activities, the general remained on the field and mingled with the players, even autographing some softballs for them.
"The 2011 edition of the USSSA Military World Tournament from opening ceremonies, to the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team exhibition games, to the outstanding play of 86 military teams, proved once again why this event is the best military softball event in the United States," said Richard Sanders, Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau vice president of sports marketing.
He added, "I'm very excited to report that the 2012 USSSA Military softball program will once again be played at Frank Brown Park. Since 1999, Panama City Beach has played host seven times, and it seems the program may have found a home. Without the support of the local community, the numerous military sponsors and the support of Tyndall AFB, the success of the event would not be achieved."