After 25 years of teaching judo to students at Parkland Secondary School, teacher Mickey Fitzgerald says the most memorable thing is keeping students who might otherwise drop out or give up, involved and engaged in school.
“Many of these kids get to see the payoff and success of training and learning a new skill which is something some of them aren’t used to seeing in the classroom. For a lot of them, this is a place where they can excel and learn lifelong skills,” he explained.
Fitzgerald, along with Doug Anderson, Jose Tudela, Spencer Gray and Andre Gogol, have kept the sport alive at the school as an extracurricular activity since 1989.
“The sport of judo provides a discipline that is needed by many of the students,” said Tudela.
“And because it’s an independent sport it gives students who might not be interested in team sports a place to fit in.”
After seeing great success with the extracurricular program, Fitzgerald started the Judo Academy at the school two years ago. The Academy allows students to work judo into their school timetable and get graduation credit for it.
“That was a big deal,” said Fitzgerald of the Academy.
“It meant that kids who loved being a part of the extracurricular program were now able to get eight credits out of it through the full school year.”
Fitzgerald, a sixth degree black belt himself, noted that the sport of judo isn’t just about fighting and martial arts.
“The kids learn a lot about strategy, listening, respect and fitness. It’s an all-encompassing sport.”
The school still offers the after school extracurricular judo as well as the Academy, Gogol explained, which gives students a chance to try it out before they commit to adding it to their school timetable.
“With the Academy there are some costs associated but with the after school club it’s free so it’s a great option for kids who just want to try it out.”
Fitzgerald also added the school is seeing more and more interest in the sport from female students.
“For a long while we didn’t see that many girls involved but this past year we had nine girls involved which is really positive,” he said.