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Where the kids get their kicks

December 26, 2004

The lesson stuck. Centra started teaching karate classes at the

hospital three and a half years ago.

He'd been doing occupational therapy for children with special

needs and he wanted to offer something they could do as a group,

because much of their therapy is one-on-one.

That's an attraction to 8-year-old Daniel Liegman, said his

mother, Karine Liegman of Orange.

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Daniel, who has cerebral palsy, has tried horseback riding, soccer

and other activities, but he likes the karate class because he enjoys

seeing the other students, she said.

"I think just having an environment where every child is accepted

is kind if the way that they are, and I think that's very important

for our emotional well-being as parents," Karine Liegman said.

The physical benefits of the class have been measurable for some

parents.

A year ago, Sarah Grant was behind her age group in her school's

adaptive physical education tests, but now she tests normal for her

age, said her father, Howard Grant.

Centra's easy-going teaching style may have something to do with

his students' motivation.

"We thought he was wonderful," said Colleen Whitfield of Costa

Mesa, whose daughter Hannah takes Centra's class.

"He's so humorous with the kids. You can tell he just has a heart

for doing this."

A special class

The karate classes are important to Centra because many of the

families that bring their children to him have tried community

programs, but felt like they were pushed aside, he said.

"This gives them a chance to be just like every other kid and form

relationships just like every other kid," Centra said.

And while the physical and social benefits of the classes please

the parents, they gratify the students just as much.

"I think it's really cool because I get to learn really cool

karate moves," Serena said with a wry smile.

"Besides the fact that I can sometimes hurt my instructor, I like

to do a lot of kicks and punches and stuff."

Hannah Whitfield said she's wanted to do karate for a while, and

she thinks Centra is a good teacher.

With five other children, her mother has had her hands full and is

happy to get Hannah doing something she likes.

"With six kids, you want to help them find what they enjoy,"

Colleen Whitfield said.

"I think this is going to be Hannah's thing."

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