Besides new belts, self respect and the ability to defend themselves, some Missoula martial artists have yet another motivation to keep training.

Students at the Missoula Taekwondo Center can now earn a varsity letter in the sport, after the Missoula County Public Schools board of trustees approved the idea Tuesday night.

The board also approved letters for indoor track and field athletes from Mountain West Youth Track Club.

Those who train in taekwondo and track and field at other facilities also qualify for letters.

Amanda Rosbarsky, who owns MTC with her husband, Steve, said many of her students would leave taekwondo just to play in a sport or activity that would give them a letter.

"Some would, and some wouldn't, but we feel it's super-important for kids growing up to have that peer recognition," she said.

The main issue with the Personnel, Negotiations and Policy committee was how to enforce and maintain the academic and activity standards of public school extracurriculars like football or basketball or band.

Those standards were admittedly lax in other outside activities. But Rosbarsky and MTC developed their own in conjunction with MCPS.

Taekwondo students will have to train 50 weeks a year, at a minimum of five hours a week, plus compete in at least one tournament to earn their letter, as well as adhere to the academic and behavioral requirements of MCPS and the state High School Athletic Association.

"The MCPS board has really started to pay attention," she said. "There are very definable circumstances for (students) to obtain a letter."

The new letter-earning categories add to a growing list of non-MCPS-sponsored activities that students can letter in, including gymnastics, skiing and dance.

MCPS Superintendent Alex Apostle said the district should consider the idea of academic letters, too.

"When students excel or make an improvement academically," he said, "we should recognize them like we do in athletics."

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

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