sibling success
‘Involved’ appropriately describes Sophia (who goes by Sassy) and Jack Saleeby: between spelling bees, chess practice, basketball games and more, they have a full schedule. In the midst of it all, they find time to attend taekwondo classes at Kelly’s Martial Arts and have numerous medals proving their success with the sport. “I started three years ago because my dad wanted me to learn how to defend myself,” says Sassy, a student at Ladue Fifth Grade Center. “Some of my friends went to Kelly’s, and its after-school program was easy to work into my schedule.”

The 10-year-old now attends practice three days a week for a couple of hours each time. “Every class focuses on different exercises and on Saturdays, it’s only the competition team that trains,” she says. Eight-year-old Jack, a third-grader at Immacolata School, currently attends only the Saturday class because of basketball practice; otherwise, he follows the schedule of his older sister.

The two have accomplished a lot. As part of the competition team, they attend numerous local and interstate matches throughout the year, which prepares them for the state qualifier and USA Taekwondo Nationals, the precursor event to the Olympics. “The first year Sassy started taekwondo, she had been doing it less than six months when she qualified for Nationals in Chicago,” mom Trish Saleeby says, adding that there are only a few areas you can compete in at the national level, two of them sparring and poomsae, or forms. “It’s a defensive art, so for forms, it’s like a routine on the floor,” she says. “Students learn specific forms that are set for national standards.” It’s Sassy’s favorite activity. “It’s moves that simulate if I were in a real fight,” she says. “As you progress in belt levels, the moves get more and more complicated. Training involves doing each form over and over to perfect and correct anything you’re doing wrong.”

At her first National tournament, Sassy missed the final division in forms by a hair. “We had coaches come up and ask about her because they recognized her skill,” Saleeby says. “They told us to keep her in it and that they wanted to keep an eye on her. There’s a real sense of community at these events. The kids sometimes wait three to four hours in the holding area before competing, so they meet a lot of other students from around Missouri and across the country that they keep in touch with.”

At his sister’s first Nationals, Jack became interested in the sport as well and started training. His favorite is sparring. “I really like the combat,” he says. “I just love kicking and punching in taekwondo. Sparring is technically just fighting, but there are specific rules. You’re only allowed to use your hands to punch; no grabbing or pulling hair.” He also enjoys breaking boards and broke the black belt degree board as a yellow belt. “That felt pretty good,” he says.

Last year, the two qualified at the Indiana State Tournament (Missouri no longer offers a state qualifying tournament) for Nationals by capturing the gold, Sassy for poomsae and Jack for sparring. At the tournament in Austin, Texas, Sassy won a bronze and Jack a silver. “I was so happy, tears of joy were coming down my face,” Sassy says. “Now that I’ve accomplished my goal of placing at Nationals, after I earn my black belt (I’m about four levels away), I will have achieved my overall goal. Then I will probably move onto something different! I’m going to start golf this spring.”

For now, the two will head to a state tournament soon to try for another bid to Nationals. As a parent, Saleeby not only loves the camaraderie and discipline of the sport, but also the fact that it provides a way for her kids to give back to the community. “Kelly’s Martial Arts has started a nonprofit called Power Source, which sends kids on the competition team to inner city schools to teach and demonstrate the art of taekwondo,” she says. “We’re constantly working on balance!”

talk to … taylor baur
Sports-Taylor-BaurEven with all of Taylor Baur’s accomplishments, the MICDS senior remains humble and appreciative of her success on the basketball court. She casually answers a question about continuing on in college (she will play at Princeton!) and is quick to mention her teammate when talking about a recent honor they both received. From a Ram to a Tiger, Baur discusses her journey along the way.

Q | When did you start playing basketball?
A | In kindergarten.

Q | What made you stick with it all these years?
A | My favorite sport was always soccer, actually; I’ve played that since I was little as well. But in eighth grade, I started loving basketball. It’s so much fun because you can really make an impact in the game on both offense and defense, and it’s so fast-paced.

Q | What position do you play?
A | Forward, which is a versatile position on the court.

Q | Are you on a club team?
A | Yes, I started playing for Blue Star St. Louis last summer.

Q | What is your practice schedule like?
A | During the high school season, we practice every day after school, and I do shooting and dribbling drills on my own. For club, we start practicing in the spring and then travel the entire month of July to different tournaments around the country. We do a showcase in September, which is when I tore my ACL last year. I couldn’t play soccer or basketball last year because of my injury.

Q | It seems like this year is going well. What are some highlights?
A | We’re having a great season so far and have only lost a few games, as of right now. We won the holiday tournament that MICDS hosts for the fourth year in a row. Also, I was nominated for the McDonald’s All-American Games with my teammate and good friend Rachel Thompson. Only 400 girls are recognized nationally. I’m so proud of us, and it’s really special to share with Rachel. We’ve been playing together since sixth grade and always play together in the summer.