Oliver junior Tiller gets a kick out of judo
By the time Devante Tiller arrives at the South Hills Judo Club in Carrick on Monday and Wednesdays, it's been a long day.
By about 5 p.m., Tiller, who is 16 and a junior at Oliver High School, has already endured an entire school day and baseball practice. He plays football in the fall and wrestles in the winter.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he helps teach youth judo with his coach, Rick Brown, at Rooney Middle School on the North Side. Tiller gets home sometime around 9 p.m. each day.
Tiller, who two weeks ago took the bronze medal in the 81-kilogram division at the USA Judo Youth and Scholastic National Championships in Spokane, Wash., has looked to the martial art for guidance. Though he participates in four sports, it is judo that has him hooked because, he says, "I'm a lot better at it." But it also has changed his life.
Before taking up the sport as an eighth grader in a program facilitated by Allegheny Youth Development, Tiller was a bit of a troublemaker. He said he was regularly suspended from school and received below-average grades. It was judo that instilled the work ethic that turned around his life.
"You have to be disciplined and respect your opponent (in judo), even though you're trying to beat them," says Tiller, who is 6-foot and an honor student at Oliver. "It really helped me in school. Without judo, I don't think I would do as well."
Brown, the AYD's judo program coordinator, said judo is an instrument that will allow Tiller to experience a world beyond Pittsburgh. Brown said judo has raised Tiller's social consciousness, while providing motivation and ideals.
"Judo has given him a sense of understanding. The hard work that he puts in is amazing," said Brown, who has been practicing the sport for 25 years. "These kids don't have a lot. This is an organization that can take you all around the world."
On March 20, Tiller competed at the Ocean State International Tournament in Coventry, R.I. The tournament featured talent from around the world, including competitors from Canada, Africa and the Bahamas. Tiller didn't place in the event, which Brown said is "one of the tougher (tournaments) in the nation," but he competed in the junior and senior competitions. He won four of five bouts, competing against athletes sometimes two or more years older.
Tiller placed second last August at the Junior U.S. Open judo championships, in the 73-kilogram division, in which he is ranked fourth nationally.
Tiller has no intentions of stopping any time soon. Brown said Tiller hopes to compete in the Olympics and other world games. In the immediate future, he hopes to qualify for the Junior Pan-American Championships.
The collaborative efforts of the AYD and South Hills Judo Club have provided Tiller a sanctum. It has been his laboratory for change and the place where he has ripened future ambitions. Beyond judo, Tiller hopes to attend college and pursue a degree in business.
"He understands that heart and energy get him a long way," Brown said "I don't think a lot of kids understand that."