- Associated Press - Monday, August 4, 2014

ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) - Don’t mess with Erica Seaford.

The 13-year-old York Middle School student can subdue attackers in 40 seconds, only breaking a mild sweat.

One of “a rare breed,” her instructors say she blends the “physical and the mental together,” having “plowed through” girls who, on paper, should have been more skilled and more of a challenge.

She often faces off against guys twice her size. She often wins.

She can wrangle an opponent in an impressive maneuver that compels them into submission with her legs firmly wrapped around their necks. At the Rock Hill Jiu Jitsu academy where she trains, exercises and spars twice a week, it’s called a “triangle.”

On a recent afternoon, Erica lined up against a wall alongside more than a dozen other young martial artists-in-training at the Hanebrick Jiu Jitsu Academy & Fitness Center on Corporate Boulevard, parallel to Interstate 77. They listened and watched as their instructors demonstrated how to escape the clutches of an opponent who mounts them. Erica was one of two girls in class that day.

Nicole Seaford, her mother, says Erica “exudes confidence.”

Ask Erica, and she will say it’s more of an assurance that “if something does go down, not that I’m going to make it happen, but I’m not going to be so scared if it does.”

It wasn’t that way six months ago when a girl who had bullied Erica on their school bus for months battered her as other students watched.

A police report says the girl and her sister began talking about Erica’s shoes. One of the girls grabbed Erica’s hair, began pulling it and started punching her. After Erica, then 12, fell to the floor, the suspect continued hitting her in the face and head before she dragged her down the aisle by her hair. The suspect’s sister stopped the assault, police reported, when she told the assailant to stop hitting Erica. The sisters went to the back of the bus.

Erica was taken to a Charlotte, North Carolina, hospital, suffering from a swollen eye, cut lip and several bruises.

Erica’s ordeal was captured on bus surveillance video and prompted Nicole Seaford and several other parents to challenge the York School Board on what they called a lackadaisical approach to resolving many issues on that particular bus. The girl who assaulted Erica had apparently been expelled from the bus, Nicole Seaford said, but was allowed to ride it one last day - Dec. 13, the day she attacked Erica.

Nicole Seaford lobbied for change in bus expulsion policies and called for the driver who she alleges did nothing to stop the attack to be punished.

Matt Brown, assistant York Schools superintendent, would not comment on whether the driver was terminated, calling it a “personnel issue.” He also would not comment on whether the student charged with assault had been suspended from the bus and given one more day to ride it last year.

He said administrators reviewed video of the incident and changed policies. Students charged with assault are suspended from the bus for one year, he said. If the same student is accused of assault again, he or she can face expulsion from the district’s transportation department. Before, he said, administrators and principals would decide what punitive measures would be taken against students accused of assault on a school bus.

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