CAMP ZAMA, Japan (July 13, 2021) – When Col. Thomas J. Verell Jr. held up the trophy his unit had been trying for 30 years to claim, he simply could not describe how much it meant to him.
Verell Jr., commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Japan Engineer District, accepted the U.S. Army Garrison Japan 2021 “Commander’s Cup,” which recognizes the overall winner of the annual intramural sports program on Camp Zama, during a June 25 ceremony at Yano Fitness Center here.
The excitement was evident in the commander’s voice as he addressed the audience of some of the JED Soldiers, U.S. and Japanese civilian employees, and family members who contributed to winning the trophy.
“Words just don’t express how happy I am, and how proud I am of the Engineer District [team],” Verell Jr. said.
John Kotleski, captain of the JED team, said he took the role as athletic coordinator to ensure his unit signed up for as many events as possible that comprised this year’s Commander’s Cup, and to disseminate information about each event, as well as the unit’s standing throughout the season. This season included five individual events, three one-day team events, three regular-season sports, and one post-season tournament.
Kotleski’s main goal as captain was to encourage JED members to participate, whether that meant competing on the team, coming out to cheer at events, or contributing in some other way, he said.
“Competition is good, but coming together as a team to compete is even better,” Kotleski said. “I am exceedingly proud of all the members of our JED family.”
The JED workforce’s positive attitude, resilience and willingness to work as team were a tremendous benefit that helped his unit reach that goal not only on the field, but also in the workplace, Kotleski said.
“These relationships go far beyond the field,” Kotleski said. “It provided us with the opportunity to learn about other people [in our unit] and cultures we may not otherwise encounter.”
It was a challenge competing throughout the year to win the Commander’s Cup, Kotleski said, and he believes it will be even more challenging for JED to defend their title next year. But he hopes that having the trophy on display in the unit headquarters building will serve to motivate those in his unit to continue to participate in and support the intramural events throughout the upcoming season.
Jessica Kotleski, John’s wife and co-captain of the JED team, said it was an amazing feeling when she learned her unit had won the Commander’s Cup.
“It was unbelievable … we’ve never won [the trophy] in the 30-plus years they’ve held the competition [on Camp Zama],” Jessica said. “It was a cumulative team effort.”
Jessica’s role as co-captain was to communicate with the teams and to make sure JED signed up for as many events as possible in order to earn crucial “participation points.” Winning an event is obviously worth the most points, but simply competing earns a unit a few points that can sometimes mean the difference between winning the trophy, and being runner-up.
Jessica said she and her husband sometimes struggled to find participants to fill a team for some of the events, but with “a little convincing” they were able to get the right people at the right time.
“With a positive attitude, a little esprit de corps and confidence, anything is possible,” Jessica said. “We plan on defending our title next season.”
Gregory Zaboski, a sports specialist assigned to Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation who helps organize the intramural sports program, said that although it was challenging to conduct athletic events in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the season went very well.
“The event became a great success, as the participants had fun while engaging in sports activities in a safe manner,” Zaboski said.
The fight for next year’s Commander’s Cup will begin shortly with the start of the softball season this month, and Zaboski had a message not just for the defending JED champs, but each competitor on the installation.
“Everybody needs to be ready for the new season,” Zaboski said.