The Plant City-based team won 21 medals in Raleigh, North Carolina.
From June 27 through July 1, Chris Welbon Karate Clubs of Plant City’s competitive team took care of business.
Welbon says that, despite the team’s youth, it performed well on the biggest stage. The 15-member team won 21 medals to bring back to Plant City at the 2017 AAU Karate Nationals tournament, held in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“I was real pleased with that,” Welbon says. “That means next year and the following year, we’re going to kick butt. I’m looking forward to that.”
Of the 11 medalists, two — Jordan Dyer and Devan Jefferson — won gold, with Dyer winning her sanbon kumite division and Jefferson winning his kata division. The team also won seven silver and 12 bronze medals.
Some of the competitors faced unusual challenges this year and, Welbon says, performed admirably. In Sydney Swartman’s case, it was taking a bronze medal in an advanced rotational team kumite division filled with competitors of more experience. Swartman had moved up to the division a year early, after three years of training.
“Normally when you go to your very first year in the advanced divisions, you usually don’t do so well,” Welbon says. “What happens is, when you get to advanced it’s four years or more of training. A lot of times, when you get to advanced, you don’t have a lot of people that just did four years — you have people that have been there six, eight, 10 years sometimes.”
A kumite team of Dyer, Chloe Dawson and Emma Vick also had to spar against competitors of far more experience. The beginners found themselves in an age division with few enough teams that, per AAU rules, it had to be consolidated. That meant the first-year competitors had to take on black belts.
“I wasn’t very nervous,” Dawson says. “I just thought of it as fighting someone else in the school.”
Capitalizing on a first-round bye, the team didn’t find success against those black belts but did finish just behind them, taking silver. The experience, Dawson says, was a valuable learning tool.
“I learned that you really have to put your all in it and you really have to do your best,” she says.
Welbon says the team’s ability to face tough competition with confidence is a result of rigorous training, faith and teamwork.
“We train in the dojo just like if it was a tournament,” he says. “We go through their skills. We do their katas 20, 30 times a night. Our training is usually three to four hours.”
The team comes together for prayer before and after each training session, often reciting 2 Timothy 1:7 afterward. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”
“We really come together and build on one another,” Welbon says. “Karate can be an individual sport but, when you train on a high level, having that group of people coming together to support one another makes us so much stronger.”