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Judo promotes Cherry Blossom Festival spirit | Slideshow

Elizabeth Ollom shoots her tiny, 2 1/2-year-old fists through the air and takes a forceful step forward, making a stern face and squeal.

“Hi-yahh” … “Hi-yahh.”

Ollom is trying to prove her equal with the nearby 6 to 12-year-olds, who are clad in pristinely white judo training outfits, rolling around on the mats.

“Hi-yahh.”

Ollom’s older sister, Elana Cueto is out mingling, helping raise money for the Kentwood Judo team. Her mother, Emily Cueto, knew the little fighter would prefer watching people her size in action. But Ollom is now pleading and about to scamper onto the mats.

“You can’t do that right now,” Emily Cueto said, catching her daughter by the waist and explaining that she is still a little too little.

“Mommy ppplease,” Ollom pleaded. “I will grow.”

Ollom joined hundreds of students and families in the Kent School District for the 17th annual Cherry Blossom festival on March 28 at Kentridge High School. The festival, which celebrates spring, cultural diversity and international understanding, featured Japanese cultural traditions, such as taiko drumming, Japanese folk tales and cuisine, origami making, cultural displays and, Ollom’s favorite, a youth judo competition. The festival also recognized the Japanese exchange students in the Kent School District, with remarks made by the mayors from Covington and Kent.

Andrea Alba-Martin, a junior at Kentwood, thinks the yearly event is a worthwhile endeavor.

“It brings a lot of people together from different schools from all over the city,” she said.

The judo competition pitted youth from Maple Valley and Covington dojos with young combatants from Seattle and Emerald City dojos.

Members of the Kentwood High School Judo club mentored the area youth, training on the mats before the tournament. The Kentwood athletes said judo is a community endeavor that fosters a spirit of helping others.

Amy Brandt, a Kentwood senior, said she’s been practicing martial arts since she was 6 years old.

“It gets passed on,” she said.

Judo is unique in the Kent School district, being offered as a varsity sport for more than 50 years. Leslie Mizuki, one of Kentwood’s instructors, said there are between 40-45 participants on the Kentwood team and more than 200 participants total in the district.

Kentwood and Kentlake join the two other Kent schools and Enumclaw in matches and tournaments through mid-May.

Tanner Abernathy, a senior at Kentwood, is a wrestler and also in his third year on the judo team. He said, in wrestling, there is crying and pain when training is done.

“Here it’s a laugh and a high five at the end of practice,” Abernathy said.

At practice on Monday, Elana Cueto laughed and rolled with her teammates. She expects her sister to join the ranks someday.

“I’m gonna make her,” she said. “How cute would that be.”

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