Karate won't be paying their college tuition
The below was taken from http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pb...ST36/704200427.
These kids were scammed into thinking their martial arts school would pay for college if they stuck it out...Anyone from Florida willing to help them out? Read below for the full story...
Karate wasn't Ashley Halpin's passion when she began her freshman year at Booker High.
Competitive roller skating had been her thing. But her priorities changed after an announcement at school about college scholarships and martial arts.
"Dr. Anthony DiTomaso, M.D. in conjunction with West Coast Martial Arts Academy, Inc., has established a college scholarship fund to include tuition and books for Booker High School students," a flier explained.
After studying the requirements, Ashley went for it. She got into the program after writing the required essay, and then kept her grades up and studied martial arts at the academy throughout her high school years.
Three years of workouts later, Ashley has earned her karate brown belt. She is about to graduate from Booker with grades far higher than required. And she has been accepted at the University of Central Florida.
What she doesn't have is a scholarship. Or an explanation, other than that the doctor changed the rules along the way.
Three years ago, Dr. DiTomaso was a gastroenterologist with a Sarasota practice, which he has since moved to Englewood. He was also a jiu-jitsu black belt and a student of karate at the West Coast Martial Arts Academy.
As the flier promised, he accepted five Booker ninth-graders into the scholarship program.
One was Ashley. Her father is a Sarasota police officer, and her mother has a clerical job at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and they had already helped three older kids with college costs.
So, when it came to Ashley's college plans, money was a big issue.
That's why Ashley wrote the required essay on "Why I want to be a black belt," and why she was glad she was one of the five students accepted.
To get college tuition paid, the students would have to maintain 2.5 grade point averages and have "exemplary conduct" with no "disciplinary action, behavioral problems or truancy." And, the paperwork said, they would need to attend the West Coast Martial Arts Academy's karate or jiu-jitsu classes an average of twice a week while in high school.
The classes would cost nothing. Nothing but lots of sweat and time, and the occasional injury, I mean.
Then, the students would have to be accepted at a public Florida university or college.
Now, after three years, Ashley has her brown belt, has better than the required grade point average and has been accepted at UCF.
But when her mother, Dee Halpin, contacted DiTomaso to find out if Ashley could get that UCF tuition this summer instead of waiting for fall, DiTomaso said there would be no college scholarship because Ashley had not earned a black belt, Halpin says.
None of the five had, Halpin says.
Ashley had counted on the scholarship. Karate had been like her saving-for-college job. And there had been no belt requirement or anything like it listed in the paperwork they got, the Halpins say.
They showed it to me. The requirements seem clear. A black belt isn't among them.
"I feel betrayed," Ashley told me.
Angry, too. She had really liked karate at first, when it was taught by the school's previous owner and founder, Steven Roensch. When he sold the school early last year, she kept training because of the scholarship. Other activities and interests had often beckoned, but she stayed.
"She feels like she was scammed," Dee Halpin says. And now it is too late to apply for most other scholarships.
Stephanie Bidot, a friend Ashley got to know in the program while training together and who also earned a brown belt, had much the same experience. And the same feeling.
Stephanie also stayed after the school was sold, to earn that scholarship, she said. And her father, Gabriel Bidot, an insurance fraud investigator and former cop, says he, too, called DiTomaso.
He says the doctor told him that it had always been his intent that a black belt would be required. And he said he had always planned to give just one college scholarship, and didn't figure three or four students would last.
A day or so after that conversation, the school's current owner, Steve Schwartz, sent Bidot a letter saying he had just talked to DiTomaso and, though Schwartz hoped Stephanie would keep attending karate classes, she would have to start paying for them.
When I called Schwartz, all he would say was that the whole thing "has nothing to do with me."
So how does DiTomaso explain this alleged black belt requirement?
I don't know. He didn't return my calls. I went to his Englewood office and asked his receptionist again if the doctor would talk to me about the scholarship program. The office manager told me to leave and said he would call the police if I returned.
A letter sent to Booker, apparently from someone now or previously connected with the martial arts academy, said the students would not be getting scholarships, and referred to attendance requirements as a reason. The letter gave no details, according to Booker High's scholarship adviser, Lem Andrews.
Andrews said he doesn't know if there is still a scholarship fund, or who oversees it.
Shirley Aschenbrenner, a physical education teacher and martial arts student who teaches self-defense classes at Booker, says the girls have helped her teach.
"They've been great role models for the kids here. I think they were shortchanged."
Aschenbrenner feels especially bad because she, with approval from Booker's principal, had helped the academy and DiTomaso recruit students for the scholarship program.
Ashley, Stephanie and their parents say they made sure they met the attendance requirements. That's just a transparent excuse, they say.
Dee Halpin said she had hoped the martial arts academy's former owner, Steven Roensch, and his wife, Debbie Roensch, who had also been involved with the school, would shed some light.
They haven't. They live in North Carolina. Web sites portray Steven Roensch as a major leader in martial arts organizations and activities. But when I called, Debbie Roensch didn't even let me ask a question. When I mentioned the scholarships, she said "no comment" and hung up. An e-mail to her husband's organization hasn't been answered.
Ashley and Stephanie have left the academy. Both feel disillusioned.
No wonder. Karate isn't just about punching and kicking and blocking. There is this whole line about responsibility and integrity. Yet their former mentors won't even talk about the alleged misunderstanding, or say if they also misunderstood DiTomaso even though for many months he trained with the Booker students at the academy.
"They're trying to distance themselves," Dee Halpin said.
Looks much like a self-defense technique I've seen before, an old one I like to call "Hiding like roaches."
Tom Lyons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (941) 361-4964.