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Jesup Judo wins gold at Jr. Olympics
Team members are, from left, Joey Lentz, Connor Lentz, Randy Lentz, Arden Simmons and Angel Lemmo. - photo by Photo provided.
In 2002, kneeling on a cracked wrestling mat in the dilapidated gymnasium of an old, unused high school before a dozen or so youngsters, most under the age of six, Dr. Randy Lentz did not imagine what his club and some of these children would someday become.
Last weekend, three of the youth became national champions when they competed among over a thousand competitors and dozens of clubs at the USA Judo Junior Olympics in Orlando, FL. Connor Lentz, Joey Lentz, and Arden Simmons won gold medals, and Angelina Lemmo won a bronze.
The club, Jesup Judo, tied for fifth in the nation and first in Georgia for number of gold medals won. NJ Lemmo, Patrick Sikes, Preston Simmons, and Pharaoh Spellman also competed in hard-fought divisions. As in many American sports, the Junior Olympics is the largest and most prestigious national-level event in the sport of judo. All competitors must have placed in a state-level event and be approved by a black belt prior to registering for the Junior Olympics.
The Olympic sport of judo is the most widely practiced martial art worldwide, and the second-most practiced sport in the world. In fact, it comprises the school physical education program for some countries, as well as for some school districts and even states in the US. There is no striking nor kicking allowed; junior competitors rely on throws and pins to win. As they get older, competitors are allowed chokes and submissions. Although pure athleticism is definitely an asset, mental acuity and strategy, focus, stamina and determination are just as important.
Almost all members of Jesup Judo's competitive team have been practicing judo for over four years. Connor Lentz, age 11, who has trained for six years, is very strong in his standing, throwing game. Connor went undefeated and won all of his matches by "Ippon", executing perfect, forceful throws to land his opponents flat on their backs for immediate wins. Not a point was scored against him, and he was nominated for the Top Competitor award. Joey Lentz, age 8, also went undefeated, but won all of his matches by pinning his opponents for 25 seconds. Arden Simmons, age 8, and Angelina Lemmo, age 11, used combinations of pins and throws in their matches. Arden fought with a ferocity never before exhibited, losing her first match but then coming back to win the gold.
Connor and Joey Lentz are now both nationally ranked at the top of their divisions, with Arden and Angel very near the top of theirs. The weekend prior to the Junior Olympics, Connor and Joey competed at the Junior Open in Fort Lauderdale, the US's only junior international competition that included competitors from dozens of countries. Connor won a bronze medal, and Joey won silver. This was commendable, but both decided they wanted the gold at the Junior Olympics and dedicated the next week to intense training. While most competitors were excited to visit Disney World, Connor and Joey attended two different training camps to work out for several hours a day with as many different partners as they could find. They also had to strategize their diets and exercise programs in order to make weight, as both are naturally slightly over their weight divisions.
Training intensely was no big deal to the boys, however, as they had worked all summer toward these two tournaments. Six days a week, they arose early and trained with their parents and siblings at World Gym in Jesup, along with attending up to six judo classes a week. They also attended other training camps and competitions to prepare. Connor, who hardly ever loses a match and has simultaneously held the Georgia, Florida, and South and North Carolina state titles on many occasions, realized his toughest matches were against kids who also competed in wrestling. Because there is no wrestling in Wayne county, and at the urging of Olympic judo coaches, he and Joey and their brother, Jared, enrolled at a wrestling camp held at the Citadel in early July. Connor trained intensely for a week with World Champion and Olympic wrestlers from all over the country; although he had never wrestled before, his judo skills led him to a silver medal at the camp's final tournament.
So what is next for Jesup Judo? Many more national championships are foreseeable in the future, and the juniors are actively preparing for the worldwide Youth Olympics in 2014, and the US Olympic trials in 2016. As well, Connor Lentz is likely to be invited to represent the US at the Pan-American Infantile Games this December in the Dominican Republic. The club, Jesup Judo and Jiujitsu Academy, is a nonprofit organization and it has its own dojo within World Gym in Jesup. It has students from all over Southeast Georgia, including some who travel an hour each way. Jesup Judo hosted the Georgia State Championships in 2005 and hopes to do so again in early 2009. Dr. Randy Lentz has been its head coach since its inception and is a National Coach with USA Judo, a subsidiary of the US Olympic Committee, but he is quick to note it is his passion, not his living. The team is based on quality and commitment, not quantity. The competitive team practices judo for three to eight hours a week, depending on the season. Competitive team members are also expected to engage in a similar number of hours of physical training, and, of course, keep up with their school work. Sometimes the kids miss out on movies, birthday parties, or video games, but none with medals around their necks have yet to complain! For more information about Jesup Judo, call 427-9220; applications for the fall session are currently being accepted.

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