Coach Rick Brown demonstrates a Judo move at a class taught at Rooney K-8. (Photo courtesy Brian Foltz)
A little known fact: the Northside is home to three Judo champions, two of them nationally ranked.
An even lesser known fact: they’re all younger than 21.
According to Brian Foltz, Allegheny Youth Development’s executive director, the group has been practicing Judo for 12 years, working out with various Judo clubs in the Pittsburgh area.
The champions’ dedication to Judo led AYD to find a coach in Rick Brown, a second-degree black belt and Olympic trainee.
“After a knee injury in Japan, I came back to Pittsburgh for the best medical treatment,” Brown recalled. “I hit a downward spiral not being able to compete, [so] I went back to South Hills Judo to find myself.”
It was at the South Hills Judo Club that Brown met three of the Northside’s young Judo elite.
“I saw a lot of kids who started to ask me about Judo, being that we had the same skin color,” said Brown.
Some of those “kids” included Donnie Black, Devante’ Tiller and Eric Thorne.
These young Northsiders have made tremendous strides in Judo, winning various tournaments, ranking nationally, and upgrading their belt ranks as each year goes by.
Eric Thorne, 19, a second-degree brown belt and sixth-ranked in his weight class, has been involved in AYD and its Judo program for six years.
The sport has helped him in many different ways, he said.
"I was a class clown. It taught me self control, self discipline."
Coach Brown instills a hard work ethic in all his AYD “Judoka,” the name for Judo devotees.
Devante’ Tiller, 16, a soon-to-be brown belt, has been active with AYD and Judo for four years. He is ranked third in the nation in his weight class.
“He taught me to work for what I want,” Tiller said.
Donnie Black, 20, is the veteran of the group, having been in the program for nine years.
Like the other Judoka in the club, he has many goals for his career in Judo.
“I want to make any type of traveling team,” Black said.
Tiller has big aspirations as well.
“I want to make it to the World Team and the Junior Olympics,” said Tiller.
All of the members plan on competing in the US Open being held in Fort Lauderdale, Fl., in August.
According to Thorne, the bond the members share is special.
“We’re more like a family than a team. We encourage each other a lot.”
Coach Brown feels a personal connection to many of the members.
“They remind me of myself,” Brown said. “I don’t have any kids, so these are my kids.”
His “kids” seem to be headed in the right direction.