Lake Wylie Taekwondo students at nationals this week

news@lakewyliepilot.comJuly 1, 2013 

  • More information Elite

— Move over soccer mom. In Lake Wylie, there’s a new diehard group of parent fans cheering for their athletes. And for good reason.

Nine students from Elite Taekwondo Academy, open just more than a year, are competing for the first time at the 2013 AAU Taekwondo National Championships being held this week in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“It’s the first time doing such a big event and it’s a little overwhelming,” said Kristina Hoffmann of Lake Wylie. Her 9-year-old son, Philip, who has a purple belt, will be competing in sparring and form.

Parent Joanne Roday of Lake Wylie – whose son Austin, 9, also will compete in sparring and form but at the red belt level – said it’s nerve-racking.

“I think the kids are better with it than we are,” she said.

Head instructor Chris Baker said his students “cleaned house” at the North Carolina state qualifier where there were more than 250 competitors. Now the Elite students, ages 9-13, will compete against others from across the country.

“We’ll see schools from every state,” Baker said, adding competitions will run daily for nine hours. “It’s a very big tournament.”

It’s also a very big deal.

“These students have been training for just over a year and we already have nationally ranked students,” said instructor Justin Strack, known in the dojo as Mr. Striker. “It’s impressive even to me that they’ve achieved so much in so little time.”

Strack and Baker, whose combined 21 years of instructing almost equals their ages, competed on the international level together on the Army Taekwondo team.

“It’s another world,” Strack said of competing at national and international levels. “You get used to your training partners, so it’s a culture shock, wake up call and just awe-inspiring.”

While the instructors are confident their students are prepared physically, mentally will require individual toughness. But parents like Neal Stapel of Rock Hill say his son Patrick, 9, is ready, thanks to the school’s training.

“Seeing his transformation from an awkward kid to being respectful and disciplined, it’s awesome,” Stapel said. “These kids work as a team but are all self-sufficient.”

In fact, Stapel commended the instructors for their “no-sugar coated, traditional Taekwondo” style.

“This school is going to do pretty big things,” he said. “In the Taekwondo community, people are looking at this school. This will be a school with a good competitive reputation.”

But the instructors also credit the parents for leading the children.

“Having the parents’ support is crucial,” Baker said of parents backing Elite’s instruction program. “They only support, and it’s been outstanding.”

Of course, both parents and instructors know it’s the hard work of the students drilling six days a week, Baker said, that makes them top competitors.

“We’re here all the time,” said Kelly Dragun of Clover. Her son Kameron, 6, started training with Baker three years ago in Charlotte and followed him to Lake Wylie. “This is a wonderful opportunity for our son.”

Baker said if some students win their rounds, they will qualify for the USA Taekwondo Junior Olympics being held the end of the month in Detroit.

“I’m extremely proud; they’ve worked unbelievably hard,” Baker said. “I don’t care if they win or lose, I just want them to be proud of themselves.”

Elite Taekwondo Academy opened about 14 months ago in its 3,000-square-foot space at Landing Station location. It’s a startup of Baker and Eric Schanno, both of Fort Mill, and Josh Flamm of Mill Creek. They now have 125 students, plus the academy opened a second facility nearby at Shoppes at the Landing to offer combat defense tactic classes for teens and adults.

Follow updates from the from the championship at Elite’s YouTube channel,, and on Facebook at

The top 9

Rebecca Adams

Spencer Blanchard

Kameron Dragun

Philip Hoffman

Jake Mei

Ahmeer Parks

Lana Rhodes

Austin Roday

Patrick “Patch” Staple

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