By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu Sports Editor
The sport of basketball is at its core a recreational activity. It can be a vehicle to teach, a means to exercise, a foundation to build sportsmanship and teamwork. It can unite unlike minds, invoke competition, and transcend racial diversity.
It can also be used to remember.
This weekend, the Inaugural Dale M. Inouye Memorial Basketball Tournament will take place at Cal State Dominguez Hills in memory of Dale, a son, brother, student and teammate who inspired all those who came into contact with him during his short nine years of life.
Dale’s former F.O.R. coach Randy Kiehm was one such person. While it has been over two years since Dale finally succumbed to a lifelong battle with leukemia on March 16, 2008, it has been coach Kiehm’s vision to create a memorial for him that would raise funds for cancer and promote great basketball, all while recognizing and embracing some of the many characteristics Dale possessed.
“His courage, his determination, his fighting spirit, his appreciation for life,” Kiehm said. “He probably was way beyond his years in his appreciation for life, in the things that he was able to do.”
Through the efforts of a great many people, including coaching legends Harvey Kitani and Dave Yanai, as well as a partnership with Asians For Miracle Marrow Matches and the invaluable work of F.O.R. secretary Cathie Tani, Kiehm was able to see his vision come to fruition.
The tournament will feature 20 teams, grades 4 through 9, from various youth sports organizations across Southern California. Proceeds from the tournament will be donated to: the Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, Division of Hematology and Oncology; Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center of Miller Children’s Hospital, Long Beach; as well as to local scholarship programs promoting youth sports.
“My friends just pulled this thing together,” Dale’s father, Wade Inouye, said. “My wife and I are grateful and appreciative of all the hard work that everybody has been doing and just overwhelmed to see people pull together for our little boy.”
Dale was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia shortly before his second birthday. Wade explained how it was just battle after battle from that point forward, jumping right into chemotherapy and having very little time to come to terms with the traumatic nature of the initial diagnosis.
“He was only two years old,” Wade said. “My wife and I work in the healthcare field, but we had no real idea what was involved with cancer treatment.”
Treatment for a child is a vastly different experience, especially for one as young as Dale. There is no break from responsibility. With Dale’s immune system oftentimes significantly weakened, keeping the house sterile was an adjustment the entire family had to make. Fortunately, Dale’s mother, Juliann was able to take time off of work to be with him at all times, to accompany him to the constant lab tests, office visits and checkups at the hospital, to cook for him and clean, to care for him when he was forced to miss school.
“You just pray and you hope for a few days, a few weeks of normal life for him,” Wade said. “That’s what we tried to do every chance we could get, we tried to insert something that was regular.”
Both Wade and Juliann loved the sport and played on a co-ed team together in college. Their passion for hoops was passed down to their eldest son Danny as well as their second eldest Derek.
“It just kind of came up through the ranks,” Wade said. “All the things that Danny and Derek did, Dale did too. Basketball, baseball, swimming, going to the beach. He wasn’t going to miss out on anything.”
As soon as he hit kindergarten, Dale joined a team with some of his friends and went to practice and games whenever he was physically able to go. He played F.O.R. and C.B.O. under the guidance of Kiehm and even attended coach Kitani’s “Fundamentals” hoops camp.
“I would often have the privilege of sitting next to this boy who showed tremendous strength in knowing the fight that he was going through,” coach Kitani said. “He was quite remarkable.
“A thought that stays with me is when his mother said that what he was really sad about was the fact that he thought people would forget him. It’s been a few years, but his presence is still with all of us.”
Remembering is important. Cathartic. Needed. But taking action is vital, especially when it comes to eliminating the ravages of cancer. It is the sincere hope of all that have put together the Dale M. Inouye Memorial Tournament, that people join together this weekend and come out to not only remember loved ones lost to cancer, but also to take action against it, regardless of the seemingly impossible odds.
“The main thing I’ve learned from my son is the fact that he never gave up,” Wade said. “He never complained. He didn’t ask for special things and he accepted things very easily. As an adult it’s harder for us to accept things and move on. But he took everything that was given to him and carried on. That’s what keeps me inspired. I try to remind myself when things are going rough, that this little guy never had a complaint. That’s the biggest lesson that I’ll never forget.”
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The Dale M. Inouye Memorial Tournament runs this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Cal State University Dominguez Hills in the main gym, 1000 E. Victoria St. in Carson. For those interested in donating to the cause, email Cathie Tani at [email protected] For more information on A3M, visit their website, A3Mhope.org.