Kids, teens and adults were kicking, punching and breaking boards Saturday at Howard High School as spectators cheered them on. But it wasn't a schoolyard free-for-all.
Instead, competitors had gathered in the gym to show off their martial arts skills and to vie for trophies in three events at the ninth U.S. Masters' Cup Tae Kwon Do Championships. The tournament attracted male and female competitors of all ages and skill levels from the Maryland and Washington areas.
This was the first year in which tae kwon do was counted as an Olympic sport. Grand Master Bok Sung Choi, president of the Korean Tae Kwon Do Masters' Federation of Greater Washington, which sponsored the tournament in Howard, was also a key figure at the tae kwon do scene in Sydney, Australia. He served as head judge for the Olympic tae kwon do matches.
As Choi sat at the awards table at Howard High, surveying the competitors, he watched champions with less skill than their Olympic counterparts but who lacked nothing in determination and enthusiasm.
Eight-year-old black belt Ryan Park of Ellicott City started studying tae kwon do at age 3 and has Olympic dreams. Ryan's plans are to "go to these tournaments a lot of times, every single tournament ... in order to be in the Olympics."
He concluded, "That's my objective."
Robbie Liebig, 10, of Millersville is another potential candidate for the Olympics, said his grandfather, Mark Halstead. "We have our future Steve Lopez right here," Halstead said with a chuckle, referring to Texan Steven Lopez's gold medal at Sydney - the first U.S. gold in tae kwon do.
Halstead was in a good position to judge his grandson's potential. At age 50, one of the oldest competitors in the tournament, he joined Robbie and two of his other grandsons, 6-year-old Cody and 8-year-old Ryan Liebig, on the winners' stand to receive a medal.
Contestants played hard in three events Saturday, and bowed to opponents and judges before and after each performance.
Sean Reynolds Sr. of Columbia cheered his namesake son's medal-winning "flying side kick" for the board-breaking competition and said he was glad tae kwon do reinforced the values "that I teach him at home."
When the tournament's youngest competitor, 4-year-old Evan Geppert of Granite, showed his "very shiny" gold medal to grandmother Nancy Rhoades of Laurel, she whispered, "It's beautiful, Evan," and noted that she had sacrificed watching a televised football game of her favorite Nebraska Cornhuskers to watch Evan compete.