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North Huntingdon Township man hopes to hit it big in Tinsel Town

By Marjorie Wertz

TRIBUNE-REVIEW

 

You can take the man out of western Pennsylvania, but you can't take western Pennsylvania out of the man. At least, that's what Bill Viola, Jr. believes.

 

Born and raised in North Huntingdon Township, the 1995 Hempfield High School graduate attended the University of Pittsburgh and received a degree in political science. Within a year's time, he took his good looks and talents to Hollywood. "A number of things happened to bring me out to California," said Viola. "It's always been a dream of mine to break into movies. And I've always been in front of a camera and in front of large audiences when competing in karate."

 

Viola has been training and competing in a Japanese form of karate for nearly 20 years. Viola's father, Bill Sr., owns the Allegheny Shotokan Karate School in North Huntingdon. Since 1981, Bill Jr. has won over 2,000 trophies, awards and titles. But a serious automobile accident last year could have ended his days in competitions. "The vehicle I was in got hit from behind on Route 30 in North Huntingdon last summer," he said. "I suffered a fractured neck."

 

The accident and his injury put a stop to his competing in the karate national championships in August. Viola was a six-time Pennsylvania state karate champion and couldn't defend his national title win of 1998. "All I've ever done was compete in karate tournaments and championships," said Viola. "Then in January, I had to have surgery on my esophagus at UPMC. I wasn't allowed to train or compete. So I decided to try a different avenue."

 

Viola began promoting karate and tournaments, but it wasn't enough. "Summer was coming and I had to decide what do to. I have a cousin who is a model in California. He encouraged me to come out and try modeling." After only two weeks in Hollywood, Viola was signed by the Pang Matusi Agency. "Pang Matusi is Japanese and because I've competed in Japanese style karate, there was a click between me and the agency right away," he said.

 

Since moving to North Hollywood, Viola has found work as a model, actor and dancer, appearing in a wide variety of movies, commercials, promos and dance videos, including Britney Spears' "Stronger" video. "I like to keep myself open to a lot of things - TV, movies, videos. A casting director was selecting the right look for the Britney Spears' video and he saw my photograph on my web site," said Viola. "The casting director said I had the perfect look for her video. "My three little sisters are the most popular girls in school now because of my association with Britney Spears," he said with a laugh. The 23-year-old son of Bill Viola, Sr. and Shelly Rossi of the Penglyn area of North Huntingdon said other opportunities have opened up since the Britney Spears' video. "Since then, I've done other things, little things here and there. You never know what to expect. It's like no other job out there and you have to be ready. You get to meet directors, actors, connections that will help you in the future. My political science background has helped me in this industry. Hollywood is all politics. So I have to give credit to my poly sci professors at Pitt."

 

Although Viola's future in Hollywood is bright, he still maintains his hometown roots in western Pennsylvania. "People comment on my western Pennsylvania accent all the time," Viola said. "The relatives I have out here are originally from western Pennsylvania, so we can relate. "I come back home as much as I can. All my friends and family are still there. I hope to be back for Christmas."

Living life in Hollywood is definitely different, Viola said. "The traffic is unbelievable. To go a mile may take an hour or two. If anything stresses me out, it's the traffic jams." Despite the setbacks that have hampered his competing in karate tournaments and championships, Viola continues to be an active member of the Hollywood scene. "I'm very fortunate that I can still teach and coach karate to make extra money, but I've been really busy with modeling and acting."

 

 

  

Viola poised to provide karate scholarships to youth

By Brian Hunger

TRIBUNE-REVIEW

 

The tone in his voice tells it all.

He wouldn't tell you it himself, but when Bill Viola graduated from Hempfield Area High School in 1995, he just might have been the most accomplished athlete in his class. But because his specialty was karate, a sport offering little opportunity on the college scene, Viola, now 24, was left with no scholarship offers. He surely had the credentials. A nine-time Pennsylvania state champion who had won six national titles and a 1998 world title, Viola graduated in the top five percent of his senior class, which was one of the biggest in the state.

It seems hard to believe there was no money waiting for him, considering an athlete with similar accolades in, say football, could pick any school he wanted, from Notre Dame to perhaps the Ivy League. Not Viola. He would sit back and ponder whether to laugh or cry. Lots of his friends, most of whom were good athletes but not great ones, received numerous offers from colleges to wrestle and play football or baseball. "I graduated at top end of my class and had a No. 1 rating (in the nation), but couldn't get any kind of scholarship," Viola said. "It really bothered me a lot. Even mediocre kids were getting a lot of money. I went to the state and had references and everything but just couldn't get a dime." Forced to pay his own way, Viola enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh and graduated Summa Cum Laude and in the top one percent of the political science program.

 

Still disgruntled years later, Viola recently developed a program called "Kumite International," which is the first non-profit sport karate rating organization in the United States based upon competitive scholarships. Through two sponsors, Viola designed a ranking system called KicKiss, which is Pennsylvania's first and only rating system supporting the academic and sport goals of karate students. Viola held his first tournament, the Kumite Classic, recently at Hempfield Area High School. The event marked the first of several competitions over the coming year. The top 10 scorers each will be given a $1,000 scholarship. "It's a unique program," said Viola, who has won more than 2,000 medals and trophies. "There's been no financial aid to help in schooling for so long, and there really has never been a board to bring all the other schools in the area together. This new system is like a league of sorts because it brings everybody together, and it's really catching on in the martial arts community." Viola said one of the things that bothered him the most regarding the lack of financial support for karate students is that most of them are forced to quit the sport and pursue other avenues in the hope of landing an athletic scholarship. "I've known so many people who could have possibly been Olympians, but quit because they needed to go to college," he said. "There's no support for them. This is a theme long over due, and we're starting to draw some national attention. We're just starting, but it had to begin somewhere."

 

Prior to becoming a karate teacher and coach, Viola saw his own career of competing come to an end in a automobile accident. Seemingly invincible, Viola endured a life-changing day in 1999. While travelling on Route 30, his car was struck from behind and he suffered a fractured neck. The accident ultimately ended his competing days, and also left him unable to defend his 1998 national title. "The wreck sure put my life on a different avenue," he said.

A few months after the accident, Viola moved in with his cousin in Hollywood and did some acting and modeling, including an appearence in a Britney Spears video. He has also coordinated several karate stunt shows on ESPN.

While Viola said he could see himself working in movies as an instructor someday, lately he has been solely a karate connoisseur. "It's all I really know," he said. "My dad's been teaching it since the 1960s and I've been doing it since I could stand."

 

Barry Reeger photo


 

 

Karate duo's dreams crash before nationals

By Jim Iovino

TRIBUNE-REVIEW

 

Billy and Addie Viola stood on the sidelines and patiently watched 11 members of their father's Allegheny Shotokan Karate School in North Huntingdon Township win 36 medals at USA Karate's 25th National Championship in Canton, Ohio.

There was no doubt the siblings were happy for the students - most of whom they helped train - but there were times when they stared out at the mats and wondered, "Why us?"

Billy and Addie Viola, who had competed and won medals at the national competition 18 years in a row, wanted desperately to compete in the tournament, but it wasn't going to happen this year. They had to miss nationals for the first time in their lives due to off-mat incidents out of their control.

Billy Viola, 22, a six-time Pennsylvania state karate champion from North Huntingdon Township, was unable to defend his national title win of a year ago because he was recovering from a cervical sprain and a small fracture in his neck that he suffered in a car accident two weeks earlier on Route 30 in North Huntingdon Township.

Addie Viola, 20, also an accomplished karate champion, was involved in a separate car accident on Route 30 three weeks earlier. She suffered head and neck injuries, including a gash on her forehead that will require several plastic surgeries to correct.

The Violas' father, Bill, was concerned for his son and daughter, not only because of their injuries, but because they trained all year for nationals but could not compete.

"That was very disturbing," Bill Viola said. "It was something that just happens. After all the training, sweat and time they put in, and then this happens."

Even though the Violas were unable to compete at nationals, they still wanted to be there for their students. The only problem was they were in Denver, Col., with their University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg ecology class when the championships started. The Violas talked the rest of the class into jumping in the van and finishing their trip early so they could return in time to see some of the matches in Canton. Twenty-nine consecutive hours of driving later, the Violas, exhausted and sore, arrived at the Civic Center to the surprise of their students.

"I've been in martial arts since I was 3 years old, and this is one of the rare times I had to miss the national championships," Billy Viola said. "Being a defending champion, it was difficult to watch. But I had to be there for my students."

Addie Viola agreed.

"It was tough to watch and not be able to do it," she said. "We still went and watched and supported them."

Their students didn't disappoint. Billy Leader, a 7-year-old from North Huntingdon Township, won two golds in weapons and advanced synchronized weapons, a silver in kata and a bronze in sparring. His 5-year-old brother, Dominic, the youngest representative Allegheny Shotokan sent to the championships, won a gold in weapons and silver medals in kata and sparring.

Ian Elms, 7, of North Huntingdon Township, brought home three gold medals in weapons, sparring and advanced synchronized weapons team. Ian also earned a bronze in kata.

Leah Ray, a 10-year-old from Larimer, won a silver in sparring and a bronze in kata. Another 10-year-old, Brian Hails from Jeannette, led the 10-13 age group advanced synchronized weapons team to a gold medal and won a silver in kata.

Rick Fox, 17, of Irwin, won golds in weapons and adult synchronized weapons team and a silver in sparring. Theresa Perry, an 18-year-old intermediate green belt from McKeesport, earned gold in weapons, silver in kata and bronze in sparring.

Two intermediate green belts, 22-year-old Christina Adams of Irwin and 24-year-old Tim Meyer of Greensburg, won golds in kata and sparring and silver in weapons. Meyer also captured a gold medal in adult synchronized weapons and a bronze medal in advanced adult team fighting.

Nick Cyktor Jr. of West Newton, who was competing in his first national championship, won a gold in sparring and a bronze in adult team fighting. Cyktor, a beginner white belt, impressed his teammates by taking on black belts in the team event despite a lack of experience.

Rocky Whatule, a 21-year-old advanced black belt from Jeannette, led the adult synchronized weapons team to a gold medal, won a silver in kata and bronze medals in weapons, sparring and adult team fighting.

The Violas' students and training partners missed seeing them compete. Whatule, who learns and trains with Billy Viola, said this was the first tournament he attended that Billy didn't compete in.

"As soon as I'd get done with a fight (at past events), I'd head over to his ring and cheer him on and vice versa," Whatule said. "I used to get pumped up by watching him fight and cheering him on.

"I hope their health stays good and they can compete again soon. When you don't have a member of your team there, a lot of people get thrown off their games."

The Violas hope to get back into competition in a couple months. Billy Viola is undergoing therapy three days a week at the Medical Wellness Center in Jeannette, but still teaches at the karate school to stay active. So does Addie Viola, who will need a skin graft to cover the scar on her forehead.

"My goal is to make it back to nationals next year and not move a step back from the previous year when I was the champion," Billy Viola said. "I want to be right back where I was."

 

By Dustin Dopirak
Tribune-Review
Thursday, June 13, 2002

Bill Viola Jr. had spent countless hours on the phone, on airplanes and in different cities trying to get his organization, Kumite International, going. He had put everything, even a budding career in Hollywood, on hold.

But he remembered why he was doing it the first time he saw the fruits of his labor.

Kumite International is a non-profit organization that sanctions events in sport karate, a sport which allows martial artists of every discipline to compete against one another with a unified point scale. Throughout the year, competitiors accumulate points for winning matches at tournaments. The organization ended its third year of existence with the Kumite Classic April 27 at Hempfield Area High School.

This year's event marked the first time Viola, 25, was able to award scholarships to those who had earned the most points in each division. It made his organization the first non-profit organization to award scholarships to sport karate athletes.

"It was just a tremendous feeling of gratification," Viola said. "It was great to know that all of that work we put in allowed them to receive something they truly deserved. I know how much they put into this sport and how little they get for it. Karate athletes face a lot of obstacles that a lot of people don't know about."

Viola knows as well as anyone. He began his competitive martial arts career when he was 3 years old, learning karate at his father's school, the Allegheny Shotokan Karate School in North Huntingdon Township. He won nine state titles, six national championships and one world title in 1998. He already owned four national titles by the time he graduated from Hempfield Area in 1995, but unlike conventional athletes, his successes were rewarded only with trophies.

"I was about as good as there was in the sport of karate, and there was no money there at all for college," Viola said. "There was a lot for football and basketball and sports like that. Even guys that were mediocre could get a scholarship."

He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, and continued to practice karate while he was in school. However, his career ended when he suffered a broken neck in a car accident in 1999. While recovering, he decided to find another way to contribute to karate, and that was where Kumite International found its beginnings.

After leaving the hospital, Viola contacted James Cvetic, president of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of the Police Athletic League, whom Viola had known since his youth. Cvetic put Viola in touch with C. James Parks of the law firm of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin and Mellot, who made the foundation a legal entity.

Viola went on the road to promote the foundation and took it from there. In its second year, Kumite-sanctioned events dotted the East Coast. There are sanctioned tournaments throughout the United States and in Canada and Italy. Last season, there were approximately 18 sanctioned events throughout the entire season. Viola already has scheduled 15 through November.

"Kids his age usually don't know what they want to do," Viola's father said. "But he's always been very goal-oriented, and you see that in the way he works with this. It's become like a job to him, and its difficult to have a job like this to do, and he's done a great job with it."

The foundation brings in money through selling memberships and through various other fund raisers.This year, it awarded $10,000 in scholarship money to the overall national point champions in novice and advanced divisions in three age groups: 11-and-younger, 12-18, and adult. There are also scholarships for junior black belts (17-and-younger), adult black belts and female black belts.

Next year, Viola said he plans to allocate an additional $10,000 in scholarship money for members who show leadership. High school seniors and college students who intend to teach martial arts also will be able to apply for scholarships.

The foundation has allowed Viola to help a few people that have followed his path, including Angelo Marcile, one of Viola's best friends and toughest karate rivals.

Marcile, 30, is a blackbelt who has won more than 30 national and state titles in his continuing career. He didn't have enough money to go to college when he graduated but remained dedicated to the idea while working as a free lance subcontractor and teaching karate at night.

He is enrolled at Point Park College, where he will begin classes after he finishes a course at Community College of Allegheny County to get his grades up. He expects the scholarship he won to pay for his books.

"He told me he was thinking about doing this, and I told him I would help him out anyway I could," Marcile said of Viola. "He's really put his heart and soul into this and I'm very thankful for what he's done."

 

 

These `Karate Kids' are national champions

By Amanda Cicola

TRIBUNE-REVIEW

 

Wax on, wax off.

In the movies, the Karate Kid overcame great challenge and diversity through the ancient skills he learned from the wise and honorable Mr. Miyagi.

Closer to home, the real deal karate kids used the real life teachings of the Allegheny Shotokan Karate Club to prove golden in national competition. Five students from the karate school on Route 30 in North Huntingdon Township brought back a total of 20 gold medals from the USA Karate National Championships in Canton, Ohio.

"It's hard to get just one (medal)," said Addie Viola, a 17 year veteran of martial arts who helps her father, Sensei William Viola II, instruct the kids. "They train very hard. We are really proud of them."

Competitors from all over the nation duked it out in various karate exhibitions demonstrating each aspect of the sport. In one division of competition, students demonstrated their ability and maneuvering with various weapons. Another featured the basic one-to-one combat style of fighting called sparring or "kumite". Students also displayed their basic form in a routine or "kata", and teamwork was the key in the final competition, called synchronization, where three members of a team used weapons in the same routine.

Addie Viola said the experience of watching the children in action at the competition made all her work with them worthwhile.

"I just watched them," she said. "I really enjoy watching them to see them get through things themselves and fulfill their dreams of winning."

Growing up around the martial arts, Addie Viola is still a contender in competitions but filled in as a coach on this particular trip. She stresses to the students that competition is not the only aspect of the tradition of karate.

Though her 12-year-old brown belt, Brian, brought home two gold and three bronze medals, Lynn Hails agreed that the benefits of this type of friendly competition do not simply stop with the shiny medallions.

"He's a very respectful student in school and in public," Lynn Hails said. "He has a very high attention span. It's just a very respectful sport."

She added that her son has shown immense improvements in physical fitness as well.

"He hits a ball in golf further than my husband," Lynn Hails said. "It's amazing his strength."

Brian Hails himself admits that his last five years of karate classes have challenged him to achieve more.

"It gives you good self esteem, better grades and more confidence," he said.

According to Lynn Hails the program does stress academic success before physical strength. Sensei William Viola II encourages students to bring in their report cards and makes suggestions to help students with their studies. He also is very understanding of other obligations, allowing the kids to make up classes at home if they have to study for a big test, Hails said.

"He's very dedicated," she said referring to the children's role model. "He teaches children that if you work hard at something, it will be yours."

Darlene Leader of North Huntingdon, received a double dose of karate when both her sons decided to take lessons. After seeing his big brother, Billy, compete, 6-year-old Dominic decided to take up the sport.

"I honestly didn't think he'd stay with it, but he really loves it," Darlene Leader said about her youngest son.

"He's going just to first grade and he's learning stuff he's never learned before," Billy Hails said.

Both boys traveled to the competition, earning medals. Billy won three golds, a silver and bronze, and Dominic followed in his brother's footsteps of success, earning a gold, two silver and a bronze medal.

Darlene Leader is amazed by the progress of the boys both physically and mentally.

"Even my six-year-old can count to ten in Japanese," she said.

The instructors combine learning the sport with developing its traditional language. Addie Viola, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh minoring in Japanese, said that since the sport originated in Japan and many of the judges at the competition spoke Japanese, it only made sense to teach the kids the basics of the language.

"It makes it so much more traditional," she said.

"I think its great," Darlene Leader said. "Norwin has a Japanese class. Now they've already got a head start."

Brian Hails also pointed to the tight bond the group shares as a major draw to the program.

"I met a lot of good friends," Brian Hails said. "I've had a friend for over five years from here."

His friend, 8-year-old Billy Leader, said that the close knit group may even have to compete against each other, a task that he says is never easy.

"It's really hard," he said. "I'm afraid that I might hurt them. I try to stay calm all the time and concentrate. I don't want them to see what I'm going to do next."

Regardless of the outcome, Lynn Hails said the kids show constant support for each other.

"They just shake hands and they're glad for each other," she said. "It's a respectful sport like that."

With all the wonderful things he has already experienced at such a young age, Dominic Leader said he does not plan to leave the sport anytime soon.

"I'm going to stay with it until I'm a black belt," he said.

- - - - -

Medal winners

Adult Age Group: Rick Fox , 18, of North Huntingdon, won a bronze medal in Kata and a gold in weapons in the advanced brown belt category.

Junior Age Group: Terrence Tubio , 12, of Allison Park, won gold medals in kata, kumite, weapons and synchronization. Brian Hails, 11, of Jeannette, won a gold medal in Chanbara weapons and advanced synchronization weapons. He also won bronze in kata, kumite and weapons.

Billy Leader , 8, of North Huntingdon, won a gold medal in kata, kumite and advanced synchronization weapons. He also won silver in weapons and bronze in Chanbara weapons.

Dominic Leader , 6, of North Huntingdon, won gold in kumite, a silver in kata and weapons and bronze in Chanbara weapons.

Phil Wilson photo

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