MATTHEWS – Spartan Taekwondo began out of necessity, but has turned into a family affair that thrives on discipline, respect and a love of children.
In 2016, owners Kemp and Stephanie Harvey were looking for something for Kemp’s three children from a previous marriage to do after school. The kids attended school in Huntersville at the time, and instead of driving them all over town to different activities, the Harveys were looking for something that was centrally located, but also would reinforce the discipline, respect and fun they were getting at home.
Stephanie has worked for nearly 30 years at Blue Cross/Blue Shield and in May is scheduled to test for her Black Belt. Kemp was fresh out of the military where he served as an Army sniper and worked High Threat Security for the Department of State. He was also a First Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo and was looking for what he wanted to do next.
They enrolled the kids in what was at the time Sangrock Black Belt World, but not long after the previous owners asked if the Harveys would be interested in purchasing the business.
Stephanie said they went home and prayed about the sale. The two got a good enough feeling and went for it.
The returns were modest at first, with 28 kids in their after-school program and about 20 in their first year of camps.
But by year two, things had drastically changed. Registration had more than doubled in both programs, with about 60 kids each in both the after-school and summer camp. That growth forced them to move into a new building – its current home which is located at 343 W. John St. in Matthews – and as they set for year three, they are looking at even larger enrollments across the board.
To the Harveys, the reasons for the quick growth are simple.
“This is our ministry,” Stephanie said. “It’s not only about our love of Taekwondo, but it’s about the kids. The Taekwondo is special – it’s good and it’s disciplined – but I think what we do is for the love of the children that we get in here.”
After-school program attracts all kids
This year’s after-school program has 62 children from all over the region.
Some of them are dropped off by Charlotte-Mecklenburg School buses while Spartan Taekwondo picks up others in their fleet of vehicles that includes a van and a bus.
The kids come from Antioch, Crestdale, Crown Point, Elizabeth Lane, Greenway Park, Matthews, McKee Road, Poplin, Providence Springs elementary schools, as well as Butler High, Charlotte Secondary, Matthews Charter, Mint Hill Middle, Socrates, South Charlotte Middle schools.
Only two kids have ever moved on from the program since the Harveys have been in charge, but those were due to one child moving out of the area and another leaving because an older sibling was going to watch her.
“We’re very blessed because no child has ever left us angry or for any disciplinary reason or anything like that,” Stephanie said. “We had 31 kids when we left over there, so we’ve more than doubled in just over a year.
“I think our growth is because of our staff and how we treat the kids. I have parents tell me all the time that I’m very disciplined for being a lady and I am. I’m very disciplined with what I do, but I love the kids and I’m fair and the kids know that. Strict but fair is what I think we all are here and I think that’s why we’ve been so successful here.”
Summer camps continue to expand
The first year in the old Sangrock building the Harveys had around 20 kids from the program they inherited from the previous owners.
“When we took over we asked the kids what they liked,” Kemp said. “At the other place, they didn’t really go out all that much. They went a couple of places, but they said they would love it if they could go out more. We took it and built off that every year. The first year we did a field trip, the swimming pool and went to the park. Last summer, we bumped it up to where we went swimming, we had the ice cream truck come and we went on a big field trip every week whether it was bowling, a movie or even Carowinds.
“This year we’ve even gone further where we’ll have the movies every week because the kids like the movies. We’re going to Stonecrest and we’ll get the whole theater to ourselves because we come with 60 kids and take over the whole theater. It’s a lot easier for crowd control, and the kids really like it.”
Kemp is in charge of the summer camps and has his routine now down to a science.
This year, the kids will go to the movies and the pool every week. Kids have a chance to relax in the morning before their Taekwondo classes and have a chance to play on their tablets or watch a movie in the lounge area. Field trips include Carowinds, Discovery Place and the Raptor Center.
But the camp isn’t all fun and games.
This year, the Harveys are making education a bigger part, and especially so for the elementary-aged children.
“This summer, we’re hiring at least one CMS teacher to add that educational piece,” Kemp said. “The studies show kids can almost drop a whole grade level – especially early on – in reading and in math if they aren’t doing something to reinforce what they’ve learned. We have a second-grade teacher coming in to cover elementary school for us, and that’s where the biggest detriment is. We may add another CMS teacher, but it’s important for us to reinforce what kids may not be getting at home because parents are tired, or don’t want to discipline and want to be their kids’ friends. We know how important it is.”
Each week Kemp will email all of his parents a detailed spreadsheet that shows what the summer campers will be doing not only each day, but also breaking every day down into an hour-by-hour activity chart.
“We really keep the parents informed so they can see the framework of the day and they can see exactly what their child is doing with us,” Kemp said. “We think it’s important for the parents to know and to be able to ask about what their child did all day.”
The summer camp runs from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., but Spartan Taekwondo is open until 6:30 p.m. and keeps many of the kids until well after the regular hours are over.
“Right now, in April, I have 45 kids signed up, but we will always take more because everyone hasn’t assigned their weeks yet,” Stephanie said. “We are growing so fast, but we love to see the popularity rise.”
Instructors offer impressive resumes
Whether summer campers or after-school care, all kids are exposed to the disciplines of Taekwondo.
Summer campers practice the sport for an hour every morning, and are learning from an impressive collection of instructors.
Kemp is a First Don who is testing for Second Don next month as Stephanie goes for her Black Belt.
Master Justin Laloan is a Sixth Dan (out of nine) and has an impressive list of accolades that includes being a two-time U.S. Open champion, a three-time national champion and a Hall of Fame inductee who has nearly 30 years experience.
Master TJ Gresham is a fourth-degree Black Belt who is soon testing to become a fifth degree. He is also a USAT certified Level 1 coach.
Even with all of the high-level experience, the Harveys say they will never push kids through the belt process.
“One thing that separates us is we don’t rush anyone through to test for their belts,” Stephanie said. “I don’t let them test because it’s the testing period, and you don’t get a belt here unless you earn a belt. That is another thing that happens here and not a lot of other places.”
But, with all Spartan Taekwondo offers its adult and children martial artists, after-school kids and summer campers it’s clear that this is no ordinary Taekwondo establishment.
“We do things a little differently here,” Stephanie said, “But we think that’s a good thing and it works for us.”