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Norwin notebook: Gabby Viola, Xander Eddy earn national kickboxing titles

By: Bill Beckner Jr.
Saturday, February 24, 2024 |

Hungry for Hungary.

A pair of local martial artists earned qualification to the U.S. Kickboxing Team that will compete in the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations Junior World Championships in the fall in Budapest.

Gabby Viola, 13, and Xander Eddy, 15, won national titles recently at the USA Kickboxing Team Trials earlier this month in Orlando, Fla.

This is the first time a black belt — in this case, two — from the Pittsburgh area made the Junior World Championships.

Viola won the -50 KG older cadets female fighting division, while Eddy captured the -57 KG older cadets division.

Viola and Eddy are students at Allegheny Shotokan Martial Arts in North Huntingdon.

Bill Viola, who runs Allegheny Shotokan, was appointed chairman and director of Tatami Sports in the United States. His role is to spearhead USA Kickboxing towards the 2032 Olympic Games in Brisbane, Australia.

Gabby Viola, Bill Viola’s daughter, won World Kickboxing championships in Ireland (2022) and at WKC Worlds (2023).

Eddy won a kickboxing title in 2018 at the Pan American Championships in Mexico.

Gabby Viola was diagnosed with an incurable bowel disease when she was 7, which makes her accomplishment doubly impressive.

“Gabby flew into the team trials straight from an infusion at UPMC Children’s Hospital,” her father said. “Trying to make weight, fight and win under those conditions is amazing.”

Other Viola students competing at the national championships include Carter Griffin, 12 (gold -37 KG Younger Cadets), Riley Evans, 16 (gold -50 KG Junior Division) and Daniel Barrett, 19 (gold -69 KG Senior Division).


4 Westmoreland athletes will represent U.S. at junior world kickboxing championship in Hungary


SUN, MAR 24, 2024 • 04:01 AM

Xander Eddy’s friends at Norwin High School don’t believe him when he talks about the eight national and world kickboxing titles he holds.

xander eddy wako usaEddy, 15, a sophomore at Norwin, started kickboxing when he was 4 years old. He dedicates 15 to 20 hours per week to training with his teammates, conditioning in the gym and coaching young athletes.

Eddy won the 2017 North American Kickboxing Open, and he was the youngest U.S. athlete to win gold at the 2018 Pan American Kickboxing Games in Mexico. Competing on the international stage is an out of body experience, he said.

“Not a lot of people would believe it, because I’m out of a public school in Western Pennsylvania. None of my friends believe it,” said Eddy, of North Huntingdon. “There’s nothing that I could compare it to.”

But Eddy is not resting on his laurels. He and three of his teammates — Carter Griffith, 12, Gabby Viola, 13, and Riley Evans, 17 — will represent the United States at the Junior World Kickboxing Championship in Budapest, Hungary, this fall.

This is the first time an athlete from Western Pa. will compete at the championship, said Coach Bill Viola Jr., father to Gabby Viola.

“It’s not common at all,” said Viola, 46, of North Huntingdon. “That’s why it’s exciting.”

Viola coaches athletes across Western Pa. at Allegheny Shotokan Viola Karate. He teaches karate, kickboxing, self-defense, jiu jitsu and “everything martial arts,” he said.

His father, William Viola Sr., started Viola Karate as a martial arts program at East Allegheny School District in the 1960s, transitioning into the North Huntingdon dojo in the 70s. The business has been in the family ever since.

The athletes qualified for the junior world championship, hosted by the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations, through a team trials competition held February in Orlando, Fla. It was the first time Griffth, a sixth grader at Trafford Middle School, ever competed in kickboxing.

‘I ended up loving it’

Griffith, of Penn Township, started karate about seven years ago. He has achieved a purple belt in the sport — just two belts down from the coveted black belt certification.

“I just wanted to try karate, and I ended up loving it,” he said.

carter griffithHe started learning kickboxing two years ago, drawing upon his experience with sparring opponents at karate competitions.

“I wanted to try to make Team USA. I was pretty skeptical. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it,” Griffith said. “So all of the work and the training we had to do for it, preparing for it, it was hard, but it paid off, and now I get to go to Hungary for another great experience.”

The world championship will be his first international competition. He aims for the gold medal in his weight category.

Griffith’s schedule is packed with training, including private lessons from his teammate, Eddy. Griffith himself coaches beginner and intermediate athletes two days a week.

“He has a passion for helping the younger kids,” said Griffith’s mother, Sarah Griffith. “He doesn’t have to teach. It’s not a requirement at his belt level, but Carter goes above and beyond.”

Consistency and focus in training over the next few months will be key to performing well at the junior world championship, Viola said.

“You can’t take your foot off the pedal now,” he said. “You have to stay extremely focused on the goal at hand.”

Each athlete is responsible for raising thousands of dollars to travel to Budapest for the championship, Viola said. The trip can easily cost $10,000 — even more so if the athlete wants to travel with their parents.

Although there is a chance the athletes can compete in a higher weight class for some events, most require them to maintain the weight class in which they qualified for the junior world championships — a quite difficult task for growing children, said Sarah Griffith.

“It seems very odd to be wanting your 12-year-old to not gain weight,” Griffith said. “But at the end of the summer, Sensei Bill will be working to make sure they all meet that weight.”

‘It is a privilege’

Evans, a sophomore at Westmoreland Christian Academy in South Greensburg, is most concerned with maintaining her stamina and endurance to prepare for the multiple matches she will face at the championship.


Team Kumite - Professional Sport Karate Team

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