The Starrett Judo Club Celebrates its 30th Anniversary

The Starrett Judo Club celebrated 30 years of excellence on December 15th with a tournament inside the Brooklyn Sports Club’s (BSC) gymnasium—the location where it all began.

The community’s local judo club is synonymous with the legendary Olympian Parnel Legros, who has helmed the squad since its inception.  The year was 1992 and Legros was training for the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, where he competed in the heavy weight division. While he did not live in the community, he taught sports at Gateway Intermediate School 364, which made the BSC the perfect location for him to work out in.

One day, during his training in the BSC’s weight room, staff watched in amazement as he performed plyometrics (a form of exercise that uses speed and force in rapid bursts of movement to build muscle strength). Word of Legros’ intense workout garnered the attention of Starrett City’s Community Relations staff (now known as Spring Creek Towers) where Earl Williams and Margaret Novack learned about Judo.  It was at that moment that Williams and Novack implored Legros to teach students in Starrett City after he concluded competing in the Olympics. Sure enough, the club began in the fall of 1992 in a small section of IS 364’s cafeteria. What started as a pilot venture with only six students has grown to now teach generations of judokas.

“It’s a great feeling seeing the children of my former students join judo. Jeremy Bonserio was my student, now his children are in judo, and he works with the [Starrett Judo Club]. It’s generations of students. It’s such a blessing because many of them have also heard about me way before they met me. You can see the trust, the respect, and the quest for knowledge in [the judokas] eyes and they are doing great,” Legros said.

For Legros, judo is a way of life. While it is a form of Japanese martial arts, it is also known as the gentle way because the concept between each bout is to counter your opponent’s weight to your own advantage. It is a style of fighting that requires patience, sharp focus, and confidence. But, most of all, it concerns respect and discipline. This is a path Legros showcases to his students in hopes that they steer away from the dangers of idle hands and minds in a community of at-risk youth.

At the 30th Anniversary Tournament, the Starrett Cup, Legros couldn’t help but reminisce over how similar it was to the first matches held in the 1990s; since returning from the COVID-19 pandemic those competing in matches and spectators have reduced significantly. Although December 15th’s tournament was not as jam-packed as Legros would have wanted it to be, it was still a precious moment to behold since all of his students attended in full force.  Fourteen students fought, eight won, four lost and two were uncontested (this was due to no other judoka being in their division).  This feat motivates Legros—seeing his judokas put all of their efforts onto the mat and showcase the lessons he has taught them.

“It was a great experience as always. The kids had a ball! I just can’t believe 30 years went by,” Legros said. “In a way, I’m glad that’s where we started, our first tournament. So, it was good.”

According to Legros, three students hold promise to one day compete in the Olympics (Dominic Bonserio, Kelsey and JJ Billups). Additionally, Legros stated that he was proud of one student who recently joined in September, Caiden, who has competed and won numerous medals. At the Starrett Cup, Caiden earned a gold medal. Legros also has a handful of students who travel throughout the United States competing, all in preparation for competing in the Olympics.

The Starrett Judo Club also fought in Philadelphia at the International Judo Challenge last weekend with the following medal placements:

  • Kevin Bailey – 1st & 2nd place
  • Cayen Altidor – 3rd place
  • Kelsey Billups – 2nd place
  • Jackson Billups – 1st & 2nd place

Amanda Moses