Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Strong Pasco contingent heads to world karate championships

From left, U.S. team head coach John Ingram, Austin Stone, Kayla Davenport, Rae Hayward, Yvar Bajala.

Special to the Times

From left, U.S. team head coach John Ingram, Austin Stone, Kayla Davenport, Rae Hayward, Yvar Bajala.

Yvar Bajala tried other sports growing up in New Port Richey, from soccer to basketball, even some volleyball.

But Bajala, 19, gave karate a shot when he was 7 years old, mostly because he saw a friend do it and thought it was cool.

Pretty soon, he was hooked.

"That's the start of this whole journey," the River Ridge High graduate said.

Bajala's journey continues this week in Melbourne, Australia, where he and five other locals are competing in the World Karate Confederation Championships, Thursday through Sunday.

"It's pretty hard to put into words," Bajala said. "It's an amazing feeling."

Bajala joins fellow New Port Richey residents Austin Stone, 17, Rae Hayward, 40, and Kayla Davenport, 15, as well as Arion Nieves, a 15-year-old from Bayshore Christian, on the 67-member U.S. team. To qualify, they had to finish among the top two in their age groups at the American Athletic Union nationals.

And though all are black belts and some have competed internationally, this championship — which is held every other year — is like their Super Bowl, said Cindy Ingram, co-owner of Ingram Karate Center in New Port Richey.

"This is their shot," said Ingram, whose husband, John, is the U.S. coach. "They're top in the nation and this is their chance to win something big."

Most have been training since they were kids, practicing several days a week and competing in a handful of tournaments a year; Bajala, Stone, Hayward and Davenport work out at Ingram's, Nieves at Mark Pinner Karate in Tampa. Bajala, now a student at Pasco-Hernando Community College, is a four-time AAU national champion and was a member of the U.S. team at the tournament two years ago in Italy.

Stone, who is homeschooled and took bronze in Italy two years ago, is tied for the AAU state title with Nieves. Davenport, who attends River Ridge, is in her first international experience.

Then there's Hayward, who started karate later in life but is the group's inspiration. She competes in the 19-34 age group and held her own against competitors half her age.

"She's had so many surgeries, been sick many times, but she keeps going," Bajala said. "Her nickname is Godzilla."

The area competitors traveled to Australia on Sunday, giving them a few days to acclimate and train before the tournament. Ingram said they will be there 11 days, allowing for some sightseeing.

To cover the expensive trip the group did fundraisers, from car washes to a spaghetti dinner and golf tournament, and held a "Fight Night," sparring in a makeshift ring for a donation. Most wore costumes, with Bajala and Stone going the extra mile.

"We dressed up as ring girls," Bajala said. "It was pretty awesome."

Bajala said all the work — and weird wardrobes — was worth the experience, where they get to represent their country and go for gold.

"This," Ingram says, "is the big one."

Joe Smith can be reached at Follow him @TBTimes_JSmith.

Strong Pasco contingent heads to world karate championships 05/06/13 [Last modified: Monday, May 6, 2013 11:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Gators rally past Kentucky, streak hits 31


    LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Florida found itself storming the field in a game that came down to the last second. A 57-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis came just a few feet short of making history and snapping a 30-year losing streak, as the No. 20 Gators escaped a …

    Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.
  2. Pen makes it way too interesting as Rays hang on for 9-6 win


    A couple of home runs provided the news pegs of the night for the Rays, but it was more topical to talk about what nearly happened as they hung on for a 9-6 win over the Orioles.

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season, as well as his …

  3. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    RHP Jake Odorizzi admitted he probably should have gone on the DL sooner than late July for the back stiffness that was keeping him from throwing the ball where he wanted to. He has since found an impressive groove, with another strong outing Saturday.

  4. Matt Baker's takeaways from Florida State-N.C. State


    RB Cam Akers still looks like a former high school quarterback at times. His first two touches (30 yards) were special, but the freshman juked instead of powering ahead on his third (an unsuccessful third-and-1 rush). That's why the Seminoles are easing him in, as they did with Dalvin Cook three years ago.

    Running back Cam Akers carries for a first down during the third quarter as FSU eases the freshman into the college game.
  5. An attempt to project what Rays will look like in 2018

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — We know what the Rays look like this year: a team that had enough talent but too many flaws, in construction and performance, and in the next few days will be officially eliminated from a wild-card race it had a chance to win but let slip away.

    Adeiny Hechavarria, high-fiving Lucas Duda, seems likely to be brought back.