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By Connie Leinbach
The Ocracoke Judo team has put Ocracoke on the map after all eight team members won medals—with three state champions–Saturday in the North Carolina State Judo Tournament in Waynesville.
“We came to do a job and we did it,” said Gustavo Sanchez, owner and sensei of Ocracoke Judo as they drove back to the island.
Seven of the team won two medals each, and new state judo champions with gold medals are Baily Bryan (9 to 10), Christian Stevens (11 to 12) and Sally Jordan (9 to 10), who each won gold medals in their divisions.
Baily and Christian also won bronze medals and Baily also won a silver medal.
Alyssa Bryan won silver and bronze medals, and Russell Stevens won a silver medal.
In the adult division, Casey Robertson won silver and bronze medals; Jetta Brown won two silver medals and Sanchez won two bronze medals.
The tournament, called “The Fall Brawl,” was held in the Waynesville Recreation Center.
“They looked fantastic,” said Helena Stevens Saturday night after the victories. She accompanied the group with her sons, Christian and Russell.
Stevens said the other competitors were bigger and stronger, but the Ocracoke group was ready.
Participating in the tournament gave them the opportunity to test their skills on other judo students, she said.
“It gave them motivation,” she said. “They’ve never competed before, but they came and they achieved.”
Sanchez said this tournament was a lot smaller than the ones his former dojo in Bakersfield, Calif., competed in where there were 600 or 700 competitors.
As a result, some of the Ocracoke team members also competed in higher weight divisions.
“Casey and Jetta were fighting black belts,” he said, noting that the two are green belts, or novices. “All of the other kids had experience in competition, and for us, it was the first time ever.”
Brown said she learned a lot in her first tournament.
“They had different styles (of fighting),” she said about her competitors. “But they were really nice even though we beat each other up.”
Sanchez said the officials and competitors were friendly, and some had never heard of Ocracoke.
“They were very excited to have Ocracoke in the tournament,” he said.
During his final bout, Sanchez said he slightly twisted his knee and withdrew, though he still achieved the bronze medal.
He will compete in the world tournament in Nov. 16 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and did not want to have to withdraw from that. He will leave Oct. 9 for Bogota, Columbia, South America, to train with his own sensei lives and where he first learned the sport.
One of the keys to the Ocracoke team’s success, besides a lot of training, is mental preparedness, Sanchez said.
“Mental preparation prevents injuries,” he said on Friday on the Swan Quarter ferry as the group headed to the far western end of the state. “By (your) mentality, you can win or lose. Lack of concentration leads to injuries. Judo changes your life. You have to do things in order and do them well.”
Sanchez said the team is creating a reputation at the state level.
“Now we have to maintain and grow to the national level,” he said.