The best of the best

Karate Connection owner Norman Yonkers found himself inside the Fredonia High School gymnasium Saturday with a good problem on his hands.

Hosting the 16th Annual New York State Grappling Championships, Yonkers looked at the number of competitors and a packed gymnasium, realizing his tournament is growing every time.

Usually with just more than 500 participants, Saturday’s event drew well over 700, leaving the gymnasium bleachers packed.

“It’s getting bigger and bigger,” Yonkers said. “I attribute it to us being really strong in the grappling community. My instructor Gokor Chivichyan really gets my name out there. I think everyone seems to like it because they say it’s a well-run event. It’s run pretty smoothly. It looks chaotic sometimes, but it’s organized.”

Participants – male and female of all ages – from all over New York state as well as North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Toronto, Canada came to compete.

Also, referees came in from North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

“We bring refs in from all over so it’s a non-biased event,” Yonkers explained.

Though Yonkers is unable to coach his own students as he is working behind the scenes, his joy is watching others succeed on the mats.

“The joy is watching that kid get that medal,” he said. “I’d love to see my kids win, but it’s great seeing a kid from anywhere get that medal.”

The event also helped the local economy as restaurants and hotels were packed Saturday.

“It’s great,” Yonkers said. “We brought commerce into the area. We bring a lot of money into the area with these events.”

Anyone interested in finding out more information of upcoming events held by Yonkers can visit