Whitecourt Taekwondo strikes back with a new gymnasium and a new academy


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Like many local clubs and groups, Whitecourt Taekwondo has been hit hard by COVID.

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Now the club is fighting back with rebounding numbers, the opening of a second gymnasium at their location on 41st Avenue and the launch of the new after-school academy.

“During COVID, we were just struggling to keep the doors open, but we’ve already come back to stronger numbers than before,” said Master Jim Rennie, President of Whitecourt Taekwondo.

“People seem eager to train again, and whether it’s for little kids or adults, we can now offer double the course.”

(Left to right) Whitecourt Taekwondo students Emily Lanoue, Ellie Connell, Josie Williams, Trystan Hayden, Addison Williams, Nicholai Baclas and Thor Handel practice at the club gymnasium.  Whitecourt Taekwondo now has two training spaces, having opened their second this summer thanks to a $10,500 grant from the Town of Whitecourt.  BRAD QUARIN/Postmedia
(Left to right) Whitecourt Taekwondo students Emily Lanoue, Ellie Connell, Josie Williams, Trystan Hayden, Addison Williams, Nicholai Baclas and Thor Handel practice at the club gymnasium. Whitecourt Taekwondo now has two training spaces, having opened their second this summer thanks to a $10,500 grant from the Town of Whitecourt. BRAD QUARIN/Postmedia

Rennie said the second gymnasium was made possible by a grant of approximately $10,500 from the town of Whitecourt.

At its May 9 regular meeting, the board approved $10,600 for Whitecourt Taekwondo to go toward a second practice space at the dojang, as part of the city’s 2022 improvement grant program.

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Rennie said Whitecourt Taekwondo was able to stretch that amount to cover the whole project, with help from suppliers.

Renovations began in June and were completed in July, he said.

“We are now able to run two sets of classes at the same time,” Rennie said.

The second gym space is approximately 111 square meters, compared to the original gym which is approximately 130 square meters, Rennie said.

The space in the new gymnasium was previously used for storage, he said.

Rennie said it took a lot of work to open the new gym space, but within the first week members were already taking advantage of the increased capacity.

Launch of the Academy

Another post-COVID development is the launch of an after-school academy, Rennie said.

Rennie said Whitecourt Taekwondo had wanted to start an academy for about a decade and was ready to put the plan in motion before COVID hit.

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(Left to right) Whitecourt Taekwondo students Emily Lanoue, Ellie Connell, Josie Williams, Trystan Hayden, Addison Williams, Nicholai Baclas and Thor Handel practice at the club gymnasium.  BRAD QUARIN/Postmedia
(Left to right) Whitecourt Taekwondo students Emily Lanoue, Ellie Connell, Josie Williams, Trystan Hayden, Addison Williams, Nicholai Baclas and Thor Handel practice at the club gymnasium. BRAD QUARIN/Postmedia

The idea is that children aged 5 to 12 who would typically “go to an empty house” after school (while parents are working) can come to the gym instead, Rennie said.

“From there, they’ll have the chance to practice for an hour, do homework with a tutor, grab a snack and play games with friends,” Rennie said.

By the time the parents collect the members from the academy at 6 p.m., Rennie said the children will have finished their homework and extracurricular activities and will have had time to play.

“We think there is real market potential, with people looking for that in the community,”

A traditional martial arts program requires the master to see a student twice a week, and Rennie said he wondered what it would be like to see students five days a week, year-round. This is something the academy could allow.

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Rennie has seen programs like this in cities like Edmonton, but smaller towns struggle to replicate them without transportation.

This area, on the other hand, has the advantage of Whitecourt Transit.

And unlike Edmonton’s after-school programs, Rennie said this one will be “modestly priced” at $20 a day.

Master Sayed Najem from California, Evan Hicks, Ezra Hicks and Master Shelley Vettese-Baert concluded the Olympian Sparfest, held in July.  Photo courtesy WHITECOURT TAEKWONDO
Master Sayed Najem from California, Evan Hicks, Ezra Hicks and Master Shelley Vettese-Baert concluded the Olympian Sparfest, held in July. Photo courtesy WHITECOURT TAEKWONDO

Although a child does not necessarily join the taekwondo academy, Rennie said that after three years he could become a black belt.

Teenage black belts and an adult tutor will work with the kids on their homework and be positive role models, Rennie said.

To get children to join the academy, Rennie said Whitecourt Taekwondo held trials, testing positive attitudes more than physical ability.

The club back on track

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Currently, Whitecourt Taekwondo has over 100 members, Rennie said. The oldest student is 63 and the youngest is three, he said.

Before COVID, Whitecourt Taekwondo had around 100 members and had just moved into the current location on 41st Avenue, having trained there a year before the lockdown.

Prior to that, the club used the school gymnasiums for 40 years, Rennie said.

The pandemic has knocked the club down to around 30, he said.

During the initial lockdowns, Rennie said Whitecourt Taekwondo tried to get by with Zoom lessons, private lessons when allowed and training in members’ homes.

The club recently hosted two Olympic medalists for Olympian Sparfest, teaching local youngsters how to fight at the highest level.

One of the leaders of Sparfest was Sayed Najem, who competed for Team Canada at the 1988 and 1992 Summer Olympics, winning silver in the bantamweight division in 1992.

The other was Shelley Vettese-Baert, who won bronze at welterweight (under 65 kilograms), also at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

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