THE WOLFEBORO Fencing Club took part in the Girls and Women in Sports Day earlier this year and will be sponsoring its first tournament on Saturday at Brewster Academy. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
November 12, 2012WOLFEBORO — There are numerous sports that often capture Americans' interest only around the Olympics, when they invade our televisions.
Curling is certainly one of those sports. Bobsledding and luge would likely fall in the same category.
And fencing would probably qualify as well.
However, there is more to fencing than just the Olympics and the Wolfeboro Fencing Club will be hosting its first fundraising tournament this Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Smith Center at Brewster Academy and is inviting the public to come and check out this unique and fascinating sport.
Richard and Denise Thayer first got into fencing when their son picked up the sport.
"We sat there and watched him fence, so we took it up," Richard Thayer said.
The Thayers found that they enjoyed the sport so much they were making regular trips to Rochester to take part in it and began to realize that they might be able to get something going a little closer to home.
"We wanted to fence, but we didn't want to drive," Thayer said.
They found Cathy McClellan, a five-time national champion, located in North Conway and while that drive was also a little much on a regular basis, they convinced her to come on board and help out with the coaching of a new club in Wolfeboro.
Thus the Wolfeboro Fencing Club was born. The group meets in the Fellowship Hall of the First Congregational Church of Wolfeboro across the street from the Carpenter School and the group has grown steadily since its inception.
"We were surprised how many people came," Thayer said. "And they still come."
A number of young children developed an interest as well and the group now has about 40 members and some of the younger members will be participating in the tournament on Saturday, which will likely feature fencers from all over New England.
The proof that the club is growing and doing well can be found in the fact that there will be another coach added to the ranks come the start of the new year, as Carol Simpson comes on board.
Saturday's tournament is sanctioned by the United States Fencing Association, meaning fencers winning can work toward achieving ranking by the national association.
While the sport may look inherently dangerous, with contestants jabbing each other with metal poles, fencing is in fact one of the safest sports there is, thanks to the use of the same material used in bulletproof vests. The uniforms are designed to permit ease of motion yet still keep a fencer save.
Each matchup is called a bout and in preliminary pool play in the tournament, five points are needed to score a victory.
There are three different weapons used in fencing, the foil, the epee and the sabre. So far, the Wolfeboro Fencing Club is mostly focusing on the foil and the tournament on Saturday will feature only foil bouts, but McClellan is well-versed in the epee as well and Simpson is a strong sabre competitor, so Thayer hopes that the club will continue to grow toward using the other weapons as well.
The foil is the modern version of the court sword, with a flexible rectangular blade that is approximately 35 inches long and weighs just more than a pound. To score in a foil bout, the tip of the blade must land on the torso of the body. The fencer's valid target area is covered with a metallic cloth vest, called a lamé. With advances in technology, fencers nowadays earn points thanks to electrical circuits. When the tip of the foil hits the vest, the tip depresses and completes an electrical circuit, which sets off a light and a buzzer on the scoring machine. A colored light signifies that the valid target (the metallic vest) was hit, while a white light signifies that the hit landed outside the target area.
The bouts take place on what is referred to as a strip or piste. The strip is about 46 feet long and six and a half feet wide and in order to score a touch, a fencer must be on the strip. However, fencers can earn points without getting a touch. At each end of the strip are warning areas and if both of a fencer's feet go off the warning area, the other fencer is given a point. If a fencer goes off the side of the strip, they lose a meter of the strip at the end, meaning they are placed one meter closer to the end of the strip.
Thayer notes that the sport can not only sharpen the body, but also the mind.
"It makes kids focus and it's fun," he said. "They have a good time and the adults do too."
Thayer notes that the tournament that McClellan has set up for the Smith Center on Saturday will offer some of the club's fencers the chance to compete against some top-notch competition and see where they might stack up.
"She got us some really good fencers here," Thayer said. "And that's how you improve, by fencing people who are better than you."
The tournament will feature a division for young fencers, Y14, which will start at 9:30 a.m., while the mixed group will feature fencers of any age beginning at 11 a.m. There's a veteran's group as well for those over 40, starting at 12:30 p.m., meaning there's a competition level for everyone and plenty of action to see throughout the day.
Thayer promises that anyone who comes out and takes in the tournament (there is no charge for admission and the public is welcome) will find it entertaining.
"It's unique," he said. "It's three minutes of constant movement. It's very fast, I don't even know how to describe it."
Anyone interested in the Wolfeboro Fencing Club is more than welcome to stop in to the tournament and see what it is all about and talk with some fencers about the sport. Thayer can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and the US Fencing Association Web site at www.usfencing.org also offers plenty of information on the sport.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126