Team Kumite trio claims gold at North American Open
For athletes, it is never to early to earn “pro status.”
For three members of Team Kumite, a Pittsburgh-based all-star travel karate team, they achieved that goal by winning their age group and becoming Open Weight Grand Champions at the North American Open earlier this month at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.
“It is pretty exciting,” Team Kumite coach and president of Kumite Classic Entertainment Bill Viola Jr. said. “It is the first time anyone from the Pittsburgh area has earned that status. We are very honored and excited to represent this region on a larger scale.”
The event saw eight champions from throughout the world, making it that much more impressive that three came from Pittsburgh. Other winners came from Mexico, Great Britain, Quebec and two from California.
“There were only eight pro winners in the world, and three came from our school,” Viola said of the North Huntingdon-based facility. “I am super excited as a coach. We were very fortunate. We have a great squad and great group of kids that push each other. I am impressed but not surprised. They showed it all season long what their skill level is.”
Lucy Lokay, 11, was the eldest winner from the area, taking home the gold in the 10-13 female age group as the top seed. Her 14-year-old brother, Luke, was a bronze medalist in the 14-17 male age group.
“Lucy has come on so strong in the last year,” Viola said. “She actually started to compete because her brother, Luke, was into it. He was doing it for years, and she would come to his events and get excited about it. She was already a very talented gymnast and dancer, so she had the flexibility and the tools. Her natural athleticism made it easy for her to convert into a fighter.”
The other local female winner was 9-year-old Samantha Pietrzyk in the 9-and-under age group. Pietrzyk entered the tournament as a wild card. Each seed was determined based on results from previous tournaments.
“Sammy is very similar to Lucy in terms of work ethic, but she is a grinder,” Viola said. “She is one that finds a way to win. She didn't enter the tournament as the top seed. She is a consistent winner. Nothing comes easy to Sammy, but she turns it on. She certainly has the ability to win any time she steps into the ring.”
The youngest winner for Team Kumite was 8-year-old Xander Eddy, taking home gold medalist honors in the male 9-and-under age group.
“He is just a little phenom,” Viola said. “He has all the weapons and is an extremely hard worker. He is one of the kids who is first in the dojo and the last one out. It shows because he has been on a tear all season long.”
Now that Lokay, Pietrzyk and Eddy have their “pro cards,” they will have sponsors to pay for all their tournament fees for the upcoming year, which is one of the main perks of earning that status.
The pro cards will last until the end of the next competitive season, when they will have the opportunity to defend their crown.
“It is a financial benefit to them,” Viola said. “Their competition fees and everything associated with the competition are now sponsored for the rest of that year. They don't have to pay out of pocket anymore, which is a benefit for the parents who come to these events. They are considered the best of the best in their group for that year, and then they have to defend that status again the following year.”
Up next for Viola's team is the beginning of next season in October at the Europa Pro Games. The event is held in Phoenix, Ariz.
Drew Karpen is a freelance writer.