Judo continues to grow in Carmacks under club instructor and five-time national champion Bianca Ockedahl.
Ockedahl, also a head coach for Judo Yukon, formed the Carmacks Judo Club last year and hosted a tournament Saturday with 57 young judokas from across the territory.
In total, there are five clubs in the territory affiliated with Judo Yukon and four of them host their own tournaments throughout the season, Ockedahl explained.
“It’s kind of like a judo league,” she said.
Carcross held the first event of the season at the end of October, Ockedahl said, but her club didn’t attend so it was the first for her athletes.
Most of her 28 students are brand new to the sport this year so it was their first tournament ever.
“I just had my kids yesterday and they said they had a great experience,” she said.
Ockedahl said compared to the first year the club has seen a large increase in numbers, particularly for girls competing in the sport.
“Most of them are new and fresh to judo and a lot of them are girls actually, which is quite nice to see,” she said.
With this increase in female competitors, Ockedahl said she is also in collaboration with a coach from Carcross to form a Judo Yukon women’s committee to encourage women to get involved with the sport in any capacity.
“We’re trying to build up a women’s committee for Judo Yukon to try and keep young girls, teenagers and women still involved in judo whether they’re competitors or non-competitors,” she said. “We want to produce some referees and coaches.”
The one-day tournament in Carmacks gave youth the opportunity to compete, many for the first time, in separate age group and weight class divisions.
But for the younger groups – because of the small numbers – the girls and boys competed in the same divisions even though Ockedahl said that isn’t always the case.
“Because we live in the Yukon and we have such small numbers we can’t really do that. It gets tricky with weight and age.”
Two experienced under-18 judokas showed up to participate, Ockedahl said, but there wasn’t anyone for them to compete against so they stayed to help organize the event for the younger competitors.
“It’s nice to see the older generations helping out with the younger generation,” she said. “We try to mentor them to help out as well.”
The Northern Lights Judo Club in Whitehorse will host the next tournament in January. The club had the largest group of competitors in Carmacks along with the host team.
Under sensei Dan Poelman – who is co-head coach of Judo Yukon with Ockedahl – the club practises out of École Émilie Tremblay Elementary School and Elijah Smith Elementary School.
Northern Lights is one of two clubs in Whitehorse, with the Shiroumakai Judo Club focused on more mature students.
They do not host a club tournament, Ockedahl said, but instead host the Yukon Championships in April.
The experienced club members go outside of the territory to compete in tournaments.
Hosting the tournament takes a lot of organization, Ockedahl said. But seeing the kids out there competing for the first time and having fun, she said it’s well worth it.
“I love hosting the tournament, it’s a lot of work but I love it,” she said.