Damascus judo students to represent Maryland in junior national championship
Pairs of children dressed in white gis tied with yellow belts circled each other, their hands held up protectively.
"Think about your favorite pro," said Amateur Athletic Union judo instructor Mark Dantzler of Damascus.
Despite the heat in the un-air-conditioned gym last week, the judo students were patient as they circled each other, saw their advantage and flipped their opponents onto the mats.
Three times a week throughout the summer the group has practiced judo at Woodfield Elementary School in Damascus to prepare for the AAU Junior National Championships, which will take place Sunday in Milwaukee, Wis.
"It feels like it's going to be exciting, it feels like it's going to be fun there," said Moses Verroye-Cannone, 8, of Boyds.
Parents stood along the gym walls watching their 4- to 12-year-olds work on their throws.
Linda McQuiggan of Damascus, like many of the parents, enrolled her daughter Shannon, 6, after Shannon brought a flier home from school in March.
Shannon will go to the tournament with her father while her mother stays home with the rest of the family.
"It will be a lot of firsts for her," Linda McQuiggan said. "We're excited to be part of the team to represent Mark and Maryland judo."
Dantzler, a former third grade teacher, has coached his son Connor, 16, and daughter Kirsten, 20, to judo titles but he had not coached other children in many years.
Dantzler stopped coaching others in 2002 to focus on his son's judo training and acted as an assistant instructor with other judo clubs. Connor is a six-time U.S. junior national champion, an international gold medalist and a two-time judo All-America honoree.
Kirsten Dantzler left the sport 10 years ago but came back to help teach the class and will compete Sunday in her first tournament in 10 years.
"I really like working with kids and having another team going really got me motivated to being back in judo," she said.
Jesse Cannone of Boyds signed up his younger children when he heard Dantlzer was teaching judo again. Dantzler instructed his three older daughters until he stopped teaching more than 10 years ago, Cannone said.
"I like practicing," said Maeve Verroye-Cannone, 9.
Everyone watched as her sister Neve, 6, slithered up a rope to the ceiling. Neve was the only one of the eight children in the class to make it to the top.
Neve said she considers fighting and matches the best part of judo practice.
Aidan Ramos, 6, of Germantown, brought a box of Legos to the practice, but once the practice began, he left them behind.
"Boys love to wrestle," Jaime Ramos said, as she watched her son on the mat. "He's learning moves, he's learning real moves."
After practice he teaches those moves to his older cousins and his brother Noah, 3.
Judo means gentle way.
Dantlzer who has coached other boys and girls to state championships said the sport uses flips and trips to teach endurance, strength and confidence. It uses off balancing techniques to control an opponent
"Judo is a really good sport for children," said Aaron Rosenzweig of North Potomac.
His daughter Rachel, 7, and son Akiva, 4, are both in the class.
"When she was doing karate they watched older children," he said.
But with judo the children can immediately practice their wrestling moves.
"It's nice to see they can do something together," he said.