As we come to the end of 2023 and look forward to the new year, The Sun looks back at the top three stories in Sicklerville and Gloucester Township that stood out this year..
Chasing a title
New Jersey Black Belt and gym owner Daniel Tavares won the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s BJJ Pan American Championship in Kissimmee, Florida, this year, while two of his blue belt students got gold medals in their respective divisions.
We featured Tavares and his student’s accomplishments in the April story, “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu veteran competes in Pan-Am contest,” by Patrick McDaid.
Tavares is a fourth-degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who competes as a lightweight in the Masters 3 Division. His divisions of lightweight and Masters 3 had to do with his weight before a fight and his age. Tavares was under 168 pounds and under 45 years old.
He is the owner and instructor at the Daniel Tavares BJJ Academy in Sicklerville, where he met his two students, Marisa Kickbusch and Keakahiwalani (Aka) J. Landschoot, the latter a martial-arts gym owner himself.
Tavares said without his students’ help, the Pan-Am championship would not be possible.
“This (tournament) was an amazing experience for me,” he recalled. “I have no words to really describe it. I was really emotional … It was all for my mother. I have been dreaming and chasing that title since I was a white belt, for over 20 years. This title means a lot to me.”
Landschoot met Tavares four years ago.
“I had been searching for a BJJ school to train at myself for a while, and I had been wanting to come train here for a while.,” he said. “(At the age we met), I was overweight, out of shape and working too much, not dedicating too much time to myself …
“Coming here, it helped me out tremendously.”
Kickbusch did not start competitive training in BJJ until three years ago; before that, she was primarily a Crossfit athlete cheering on her husband as he competed in events.
BJJ rankings have a lot to do with longevity and years of practice. Tavares’ fourth-degree black belt ranking was achieved through years of teaching and winning tournaments. While Landschoot and Kickbusch are blue belts now, they will continue to work toward their black belts with tests and competitions.
Tavares offers a free sample class at his gym for beginners and anyone who wants to increase their skills.
Coming out number one
The Gloucester Township Police Department received the Destination Zero 2023 Comprehensive Safety Award from the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund Museum this fall.
We featured the award in an October story headlined, “‘No small feat,'” by Patrick McDaid.
The national honor comes all the way from Washington, D.C, and recognizes a law- enforcement agency that has successfully implemented and promoted the most comprehensive officer safety and wellness programs.
“Receiving this award is no small feat. It has taken years of training, of implementing new programs aimed at officer safety and wellness,” said Mayor David Mayer. “We went up against departments all across the (nation) and came out number one.
“Congratulations to our entire department.”
The police department enhanced its training program by installing a new VirTra Simulator to improve critical decision-making skills with use-of-force training in situations like domestic violence, active shooter and other high-stress encounters. The device also includes interactive scenarios for hostage negotiations, drunk drivers and even the most obscure situations.
A beacon of spirit
Gloucester Township ushered in the holiday season with its cherished tradition of the annual Christmas village and tree lighting earlier this month at Veterans Park in Clementon.
We featured the event in a December article, “A village alight: Township kicks off holiday,” by Taja Johnson.
The event – a collaborative effort of various community stakeholders – was described as a beacon of community spirit and an opportunity for residents, local officials, law enforcement and vendors to come together in a holiday atmosphere. The gathering saw an enthusiastic response from the community, with the police and EMS actively involved in fostering a sense of camaraderie and safety.
Residents joined in holiday-themed activities and attractions organized for all age groups. The Christmas village featured an array of local vendors offering seasonal treats, crafts and gifts. Safety measures were in place and health guidelines observed, a commitment to well-being in the township.