Pennsylvania Karate Championships at Valley to draw elite competition again
With the WPIAL football postseason in full swing, PIAA girls and boys soccer postseason in high gear and just before high school coaches start rolling out basketballs for preseason camp, the annual Pennsylvania Karate Championships found a sweet spot in the local sports schedule.
The 46th annual Pennsylvania Karate Championships will hold its early-November competition Saturday at Valley High School.
“It’s one of the highest-sanctioned events in the United States,” Sensei Frank Caliguri said. “It’s a state tournament with a national draw.”
The nation’s second-longest running karate tournament is the equivalent of the NFL putting its Super Bowl in September or MLB’s World Series in April. It’s the place to be for anyone who is serious about competing in karate.
“I feel good about it,” Caliguri said. “Most people, they have a couple tournaments and they fizzle out. The tourney has grown, and it has a good reputation to it.”
The tournament has been kept alive and thriving by two of the sport’s longtime ambassadors in Caliguri and his wife, Nancy.
Saturday will mark the start of the 2019 points year for the Pa. Karate Ranking Association, while the champions from 2018 will be recognized and receive their awards. The top-10 competitors and champions will be honored. There will also be seven grand champion trophies earned across the children and adult divisions.
The event added a master and grand master group in kata and weapons divisions. Murrysville resident Jose Rivera has No. 1 PKRA ranking and title masters kata, weapons and fighting divisions. Grandmaster Bruce Heilman from Reading is coming is out of retirement to bring Rivera some competition, and Ohio’s Mike Bukala will also compete against Rivera.
Caliguri is so excited about the competition, he made it first on Saturday’s docket.
“We’re running that first so that everybody will be able to see the grandmasters do their thing,” Caliguri said.
Other local state champions competing include Lower Burrell resident Robert O’Sullivan in the men’s novice division and Christian Sullivan of Lower Burrell and Zachary Fry in the 13-14 advanced boys. Fry will go into the competition as 13-17 advanced Pa. state champ.
Leechburg’s Aidan Reed will begin defense of his state title in the 12-and-under novice division. Jasmine Lobaugh of Sarver also will compete in the the 9-10 advance girls division. Lobaugh ranks first in the state in fighting and sparring. Lower Burrell’s Anthony Barbieri will be defending his title in the 11-12 advanced kata.
Another intriguing matchup comes in the women’s division between 2017 state champ and 2018 second-place finisher Pam Jox of Pittsburgh against 2018 points champ Divina Pappas.
“You have two of the top women competing there,” Caliguri said.
Caliguri said he expects upwards of 350 competitors Saturday. Fighters from as far away as Phoenix and Albuquerque, in addition to the tri-state area, will be looking to cash in on one of the country’s highest-sanctioned events with double points.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Caliguri said. “It seems like it’s up a little bit this year. We have a lot of people coming from out of town.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.