The main reason that Katie Marquart escaped a would-be attacker a little over a year ago was that her car happened to be between them. After that incident, she vowed it would never again be only luck that kept her from being a victim.
“I wanted to keep myself safe, and I didn’t know what to do when that happened,” said Marquart, who was the 50,000th person to receive self-defense training from The Ali Kemp Educational Foundation on Saturday at Kauffman Stadium.
“We started this class with 12 people in the basement of Leawood City Hall,” said Roger Kemp. “And now with 50,000 people coming through this class, we can make a difference. We can save lives.”
Roger Kemp is the father of Ali Kemp, a 19-year-old woman who was murdered while she worked as a lifeguard at a Leawood swimming pool in 2002. In an effort to “save even just one life,” Kemp partnered with Jill and Bob Leiker, as well as the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District (where Jill Leiker is the corporate and community wellness manager) to create a course that would teach girls and women about safety awareness. The Leikers — married martial artists — designed and taught all of the free self-defense training courses offered by the foundation.
“This really is the work of our lives. I didn’t know when I was younger that I would have something so meaningful,” said Jill Leiker. “This is Ali’s legacy.”
As the smell of charcoal wafted over from a college football tailgate at Arrowhead Stadium, hundreds of women in athletic gear and jeans, ranging in age from teenagers to the grandmothers of those teenagers, arrived at Kauffman Stadium. Girls as young as 12 can register for the class, and women as old as 90 have taken it.
“Women’s safety has always been important to the Royals and Royals Charities,” said Marie Dispenza, director of Royals Charities. “It’s nice that we’ve been able to open up our home for the Ali Kemp Foundation to reach as many people as possible.”
With 450 women pre-registered for the event, the crowd easily filled two sections on the first base side. Among those in the audience was Anita Siler – she’d brought her friend Julie Leak and their two 13-year-old daughters. Siler had previously attended a TAKE Defense Training Class at Staley High School and believed it was a message that all four women could benefit from hearing.
“I brought them to help them learn about awareness and specific techniques for self-defense,” said Siler.
“I’ll feel better in case something happens because I’ll be prepared,” added her daughter Emily.
As Leak sat next to her daughter, Juliann, she explained that the story of the Kemps themselves was a source of inspiration.
“For her parents, to turn such a tragedy into a positive, it’s amazing,” said Leak.
The foundation holds 35 to 45 training sessions a year, hosting two dozen local classes and traveling to 16 college campuses across the country. This Saturday, a contingent of 20 women from the sorority Alpha Delta Pi at Northwest Missouri State decided to make the trip to Kansas City instead.
“We wanted to bring self-defense back to our campus,” said sorority member Sam Olive.
“In college, we need to be aware of what’s around us,” added Allison Moore.
After hearing from Kemp and the Leikers, the group was led out on the field where 22 dummies had been arranged in front of the outfield wall. Over the course of an hour, the women were instructed on how to break holds and strike back at attackers.
“It’s about going home. It’s not about violence,” said Bob Leiker. “You have the right to protect yourself. You have the ability to protect yourself.”
As Roger Kemp watched the class proceed from a few feet away, he reflected back to 2008 – the first year that a TAKE self-defense course was held at Kauffman.
“I first thought, let’s fill up the Royals’ stadium. It holds about 38,000 people. Then, I thought let’s fill up the Chiefs’ stadium,” said Kemp. “Now I guess we’ll have to fill up both.”
Saturday’s session was actually the third time Marquart had attended a TAKE defense class. This time she brought her sister, mother and two friends, wanting to make sure they heard the same words that she now lives by.
“It’s not about living in fear,” said Marquart. “It’s about being equipped if something happens.”