By Kevin Colley
The Scioto Voice Writer
Nate Hoover isn’t shy about telling anybody that Gabriel Willis and Sydney Hoskins are advanced for their age group in terms of their abilities as skilled pupils in martial arts.
However, Hoover has a right to brag on them both – because the duo keep proving themselves against the best that the United States, and the world, has to offer.
In the 2023 Submission-Only Good Fight World Championships on Dec. 9, Willis, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Wheelersburg, and Hoskins, a 10-year old fifth-grader from Sciotoville Community Schools, combined to win four world championships to go along with a third-place between them at the Manheim, Pa. based event.
For Willis and Hoskins, however, they are quick to credit their skillset to Hoover and his program – especially as an outlet that they greatly enjoy.
“It’s really an amazing experience,” Willis said. “It’s something great to have something that’s a part of the community.”
“It’s everything to me,” Hoskins said. “I love being here. I love how we compete and the various events that we compete in. It’s always a good challenge.”
Willis, who continues to showcase his incredible skillset at every turn, took home the gold in the Gi Grappling Teens Intermediate, 110-to-120-pound and 13-to-15-year-old class by scoring submission victories in both rounds over Cameron Mitchell, a competitor who hailed from Team Balance out of Baltimore, Md. – a city that in itself has over seven times the population of Scioto County.
The Wheelersburg talent, however, wasn’t done.
In the Teens Intermediate Division for 13-to-15-year-olds who weigh between 118 to 129 pounds as No-Gi grappling competitors, Willis scored victories over Juliet Lewin and Gideon Jancu in the Semifinals and the First Place Match to claim a clean sweep of that event, as well.
Going up against Dylan Brewer of London Martial Arts in the 13-to-15-year, Teens Advanced No-Gi grappling division for those between 119 to 120 pounds, Willis defeated Brewer by submission in both rounds to complete the world championship trifecta.
Of Willis’ six submissions, four of them took less than two-and-a-half minutes. Two of the submissions took just 46 seconds to complete.
It’s a run that Willis simply credits to the hard work that those within the Hoover Combat Athletics camp put him through.
“Everybody here just wants to help,” Willis said. “Everybody here is good at their one thing, and it comes together like a puzzle. Everybody’s good at their thing, so they teach you it, and everybody wants to see everybody do good.”
Hoskins, meanwhile, is developing into a world-renowned threat herself. The pre-teen claimed a submission victory over Joshua Parker in the third-place, four-to-12-year-old Kids Intermediate Division for those who weigh between 69 to 77 pounds in no-gi grappling, then blitzed the field in the gi grappling, 4-to-12-year-old Kids Intermediate Division for those between 72 to 77 pounds by scoring victories over William Cunha and Tyler Moyer in the semifinals and the first place match, respectively. Hoskins defeated Moyer in overtime to win a world title of her own.
Her methods en route to claiming victory? Well, simply put, brutality honest, for the opposition, as well as matter-of-fact.
“It took a lot of practicing, too,” Hoskins said. “I had a role, and I had to practice my techniques and how I slammed and how I choked people out. It took me a lot of weeks to learn that.”
It’s certainly neat to see the championships come for two of his advanced pupils, but for now, Hoover is simply worried about Hoskins and Willis enjoying martial arts on a day-to-day basis.
“My priorities right now, are to make sure that they’re all having fun and growing,” Hoover said. “I think that the wins will come with time. They’re focused, smart, driven kids. I’m not forcing anything. What will happen is what will happen. We’ve just got to keep encouraging them and letting them grow at their own pace.”
As is the case with most individuals who are at the top of their game, the taste of being world championship-winning talents has Hoskins and Willis wanting more – with Willis setting his own sights on possibly even competing in the Junior Olympics in the future with a strong performance in Argentina later this year.
“It’s great to see people that will join, and they get better,” Willis said. “You can see the real progress in front of your eyes. It’s a great way to focus your energy on, and it’s great to see your progress. You get to see the progress and go from, ‘Hey, I don’t know anything,’ to ‘Hey, I know a great deal and I can really compete.’ I have a tournament in Argentina this coming November, so I’m hoping to go there and win that. That will actually qualify us for the Junior Olympics if we do that.”
“The support that I’ve had from my Mom and Dad, as well as everyone here at Hoover Combat and at East, is awesome,” Hoskins said. “It’s so fun doing it. As I go forward, I look forward to competing for more world championship trophies and embracing new challenges. I just want to learn more techniques as I go along and be the best that I can be.”
Hoover, however, is arguably more concerned with Hoskins’ and Willis’ growth off of the mat. Calling both of them “championship people,” he’s simply enjoying and trying to take in the overall process of what can be built over time.
“It’s been wild to watch them grow, physically, mentally and emotionally,” Hoover said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s something that I haven’t even had time to process myself to see where we’ve come just because of how far I think they’ll go. This is Year 1 of, I believe, 10 or 20 as opposed to, ‘We’ve hit an end goal.’ As long as I keep seeing positive trends with all of the kids, that’s all I care about. Everything else will come as it is supposed to.”