Above: Devante Tiller at the Liberty Bell Judo Tournament in Philadephia this past spring, where he won a gold medal in the junior division. (Photo courtesy AYD).

While extra-curricular sports usually take high school students to different schools and local tournaments, the martial arts form, judo fighting is about to take Northside teen Devante Tiller around the world.  

This past July, 18-year-old Tiller won the gold medal at the USA Judo Junior Olympic National Championships in Irving, Texas. He is next headed to South Africa in November to compete for the International Judo Federation Junior World Championships.

Although it’s been a long road for Tiller, his hard work and dedicationare culminating in a monumental step towards his dream of competing in the Olympics.

“It was a special moment for me [to win] because that was my third time going. The first time I went 0-2, and the second time I came in third, just missing my chance to get on the junior world team,” explained Tiller. “So for me to win and finally make it on the junior world team was just like the old saying ‘The third time’s the charm’”.

Growing up, Tiller was faced with criminal alternatives and activities that were detrimental to his success. Tiller had to learn the importance of making the right decisions at an early age.

“There was a lot of trouble to get into, like fighting just for fun or stealing from stores,” said Tiller.

However, he is thankful for the influence of his family, specifically his mother, who helped him stay out of trouble and focus on what’s important. He is equally as appreciative and indebted to the Allegheny Youth Development program for steering him in the right direction.          AYD is an afterschool organization that helps at-risk youth through self-control programs and improving academic performance.

“I found out about AYD when I was in eighth grade, and that was one of the best things to ever happen to me. Before AYD, my grades in middle school were below average, and I was always in and out of the principal’s office. But after I started judo, they had an academic assistance program that really helped me get on track and focus on my education.”

Tiller graduated from Oliver High School in June and was accepted to Penn State University. With his chase of the junior world title, the school granted him an enrollment deferral. He plans to pursue his education, but he also wants to see how far his judo talents can take him.

Tiller trains three to four times a week and spends time as a junior instructor, helping with the younger kids and their judo training at a local middle school.

Tiller is training arduously for his next milestone in South Africa. He has started by training with two-time Olympic bronze medalist, Jimmy Pedro, and several members of the 2011 senior world judo team. The training will continue with trips to Canada and Belgium to participate in several competitions.

“My training is a fun but challenging path to becoming a world champion because there is never a practice where we take it easy. We are constantly pushing ourselves to be better than we were the days before.”

Judo has aided Tiller in ways that supersede mere martial arts. It has helped him learn self-control, self-discipline, focus and hard work. It has become a way of life for him.

“If you believe in mind, body and spirit, then you take that onto the mat. Through hard work, your dreams can come true. He’s starting to realize that,” said his coach Rick Brown.