BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
TAHLEQUAH - Beginning February 4, United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians children will have the opportunity to test their speed, agility and martial arts skills through a new tribal partnership with Ramos TaeKwonDo.
“We are very excited because we’ve always wanted to bring martial arts to the Native people,” said Master Denisse Ramos, co-owner of Ramos TaeKwonDo. “It’s great because our main goal is to have a Native American taekwondo team and take them to compete at tournaments. Nothing would make me more proud than to go to tournaments and all the kids walk in with the Keetoowah logo on their uniforms.”
UKB Housing Inspector and Project Coordinator Richard Vann first approached Ramos about the project as a way to combat bullying in schools and build confidence.
“I think it’s going to be really good. It builds up confidence for kids and Keetoowah kids need that. I can’t wait to get started,” said Vann.
The classes will also be open to children of other federally recognized tribes, with a Keetoowah preference.
Vann and fellow coordinator Amanda Mink pitched the project as part of their Keetoowah Strong of Sound Mind, Body, and Spirit program. The program strives to provide tribal youth with the self-confidence and focus they need to make it in today’s world.
The project will sponsor 15 children to take speed and agility classes on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Another 15 children will be sponsored for gis and taekwondo classes at Ramos TaeKwonDo on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning at 7 p.m.
“I’m sponsoring five, 8 to 12-year-olds and then 10 kids ages 13 to 18-years-old for taekwondo. On the speed and agility, I’m just going to open it up to kids from 10 to 18-years-old,” said Vann. “I want to help 30 kids and I want to keep track of who is actually showing up and who Denisse suggests to keep going.”
Ramos said taekwondo can give children who don’t necessarily excel at sports the opportunity to still participate in physical activities.
“They’re overlooked because they don’t have that sports background, but then they come to martial arts and they’re like, ‘oh, I can break a board,’” said Ramos. “If you play basketball, if the team wins and you just sit on the bench the whole season, you still win. No one sits on the bench at taekwondo.”
Ramos’ program is also Kukkiwon certified.
“Once you reach black belt, that’s a certification that comes from Korea,” said Ramos. “Anywhere you go, your black belt is recognized. Our school is certified through them. It just builds that confidence on every kid and it’s just amazing to see them grow as they progress on belts. For Rich to bring this back to this community is just great.”
The project has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Office of Native American Programs through FirstPic, Inc., making UKB one of only five tribes from their region to be recognized.
“Rich would never brag on himself, but our HUD offices in Washington D.C., they picked up his project that he’s doing,” said Nancy McCause, UKB Housing director. “It’s part of our Safety and Crime Prevention. They’re shining a light on him and they’re really interested in this. They want to get involved with it and go through it as a strategic planning project.”
To sign a UKB child up for the program, contact Vann at 918-871-2800, ext. 2840. Limited spots remain.