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Local karate kids head to national tourney

Thirteen members of the USA Karate Training Center in Medford competethis week in the 1997 National Karate Championships at Walt Disney Worldin Orlando, Fla.

The athletes are students of Del Saito at the karate center at 259 E.Barnett Road and at his Grants Pass International Academy.

Several of my students have chances to do real well in the nationals,says Saito. They are working real hard right now to get ready. Allof my students are very disciplined in the fundamentals of karate. That'swhy they tend to do well in bigger meets.

Karate means empty hand in Japanese. The sport is generallydefined as a way of unarmed self-defense.

Tony Mendonca, 21, a two-time national champion in the disciplines ofkata and team kata, will compete in the tournament and serve as co-coachfor athletes from the Medford center.

The other coach will be Dave Polk.

It's a lot more stressful to coach and compete, says Mendonca.It's like being single and baby-sitting 13 kids for a week. But I'mlooking forward to it because of the trip and the opportunity for our kidsto come home with medals.

USA Karate Training Center members who have qualified for the nationalfinals are Jeanette Montel, Rumi Tajalle, Nicholas Garrett-Powell, DamionPonce, Missy Polk, Tony Polk, Rachel Lobdell, Caitlin Johnson, Bill Hignett,Ryan Nations, Suzette Caldwell, Veronica Gardner and Mendonca.

Montel, Tajalle and Mendonca are 1997 Northwest Regional champions. Mendoncais a third-degree black belt. Each black belt represents three years ofsuccess at the highest levels of karate.

Tony has been competing since he was 8 years old, says Saito.He has won numerous championships, and he won a gold medal in theWorld Team Championships last year.

Tajalle, 21, will be seeking national championships in all three disciplines(kata, team kata and kumite), according to Saiti.

She won gold (medals) in the state and regional competitions,says Saito. She has a good chance.

Damian Ponce is also a real strong competitor in the novice division.And Missy and Tony Polk have done real well in some tournaments this year.For them, it comes down to what kind of a tournament they are having andhow consistent they can be.

More than 3,000 competitors are expected for the national meet, whichwill be held in the new multi-purpose athletic center at Walt Disney World.

The Medford contingent flew to Orlando on Monday. Competition startson Wednesday.