HAGAMAN - The children at the Amsterdam Family YMCA were ready for the arrival of Nick Delpopolo, who will be competing at the Olympics in London.
As soon as the United States' top-ranked judo athlete entered the classroom Thursday, about 30 children serenaded him with "U.S.A." chants and held up signs they had made out of art supplies, sporting the American flag and red, white and blue.
"When I walked in, I didn't know how to react," Delpopolo said. "They were really excited to see me, and that made me really excited to see them."
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Olympian Nick Delpopolo, left, teaches Andrew Mikel, 7, of Amsterdam a Judo technique while visiting the Amsterdam YMCA in Hagaman on Thursday.
Shortly after, the event moved to the YMCA's gymnasium, where Delpopolo told them a little bit about himself and Judo, which was created in Japan in 1882 by Jigoro Kano. Delpopolo lives in Amsterdam and trains at the Jason Morris Judo Center in Glenville. The 23-year-old Delpopolo has been a judoka - someone who practices judo - since he was 5 years old. He competes in the 73-kilogram weight class and is ranked No. 12 worldwide.
YMCA Executive Director Nancy Carr said Delpopolo has been a YMCA?member for several months.
"This is thrilling," Carr said. "The moment that I saw he was going to be in the Olympics, I asked him to come and meet with our summer campers and also about the Olympic spirit."
After a brief introduction to himself and the sport, Delpopolo demonstrated several throws, and invited any child to execute a move on him. He also answered questions from the campers, which ranged from if he ever got hurt from practicing judo and what his toughest match was.
Delpopolo has been hurt, especially as a wrestler in high school, when he wrestled at Bergen Catholic High School in New Jersey. After recovering from the injury, he moved to New York, where he graduated from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School while advancing his judo career.
As for the toughest match, he said that was the match that qualified him for the 2012 Olympics in London, which will begin July 27. He defeated one of his closest rivals, Michael Eldred, to win the Olympic spot.
"I hope I can be a positive influence for them," Delpopolo said. "I remember when I was about 9, a New York Giant came to our school. He didn't start, I don't even think he was second string, but he was a professional football player. He was a big dude, and we were just jacked up to see him."
After the program moved back to the classroom area, Delpopolo signed autographs, and each child had a chance to speak to him for a moment.
"Judo, which is my passion, and has given me everything in my life, it's awesome to let them see it," he said. "If two of those kids end up interested in Judo and try it out, it opens the doors for Judo and opens the doors for them possibly."
The children weren't the only ones excited about the Olympian's presence at the Y on Thursday. Various staff members and board members turned out for the event as well.
"It was wonderful," Board of Directors President John Hassfurter said. "To have an Olympian here at a small Y like this in the United States. There's only 10,000 cities in the United States, and to be this lucky to have an Olympian come in to ours, we're blessed."