College Fencing Grows In Popularity

I’m about to take down a blog I started in college for an online media class when I came across this story that I wrote last April. In addition to covering football, basketball, and softball in college I covered unique sports like lacrosse, rugby, and fencing. Here’s a peek into college fencing at the University of North Texas.

The University of North Texas fencing club is one of the oldest running sports organizations on campus. No one knows just exactly when the club was founded originally but fencing on campus does go all the way back to 1941 where it was documented in a yearbook, according to the UNT Fencing club website. It is also one of the oldest rec sports on campus with the club dating back to 1974.

Members of the fencing club joined the team for different reasons. Fencing club president Roberto Guerra began his fencing career five years ago even though it meant making sacrifices.

“I lived in Austin and we (family) would drive at least an hour away just so I could fence,” Guerra said.

Guerra gave up playing football to pursue fencing because he said football just didn’t appeal to him.

“I played on both lines: offensive and defensive and I just got tired of it. Fencing allowed me to do something most sports don’t,” Guerra said. “I think it’s mental and physical all at the same time. In fencing, I got to play chess in my head with another person where I don’t know what they’re going to do but still react to it.”

After studying the sport through high school, Guerra realized that fencing was exactly what he wanted to pursue.

“I came to school knowing that I’d be fencing so I looked for schools specifically with fencing,” Guerra said. “Only the top schools have them but those are too expensive.”

Dues for UNT club members is $20 which covers equipment, competitions, and travel. The fencing club received $5,000 from the Recreational Sports Department this semester, according to Billy Matthew, the Assistant Director of Intramurals and Sports Clubs. That money comes from student services fees which is paid through student tuition. Billy Matthew said the process for receiving the money is complex.

“Each club makes a presentation before the recreational board followed by a question and answer session,” Matthew said. “Then the board makes their recommendations on who should get much and then they allocate the money.”

As president, Guerra presented the fencing club’s presentation and he said worked hard to get to a leadership position with the club which has been his favorite thing since joining.

“I started off coming in as a regular fencer,” Guerra said. “Then I got elected as vice president for a year and then after that became president.”

Although the club recruits for new members, the number of fencers has remained relatively the same. But Guerra said that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“On terms of membership, the club hasn’t grown but in terms of types of members, it was improved,” Guerra said. “We’re bringing in more experienced people.”

One of those experienced fencers is fencing club historian Stephen Koch. Koch said his interest in swords and weapons led to him discovering fencing.

“One day in 11th grade I just decided to look up fencing clubs in the Dallas area,” Koch said. “I found one called Fencing Institute of Texas and I fenced there for nearly three years.”

Despite adding multiple experienced fencers, the club hasn’t discouraged other UNT students from picking up the unique sport. UNT student Gibran Castaneda has been a member for two years and came in as a newbie. He said he wasn’t sure what to expect when he walked through the doors of the Bahnsen Gym.

“The first day was a bit intense and it wasn’t until after the drills that they realized that I was new,” Castaneda said. “After practice the first day, it was really fun. Since then, I’ve been coming almost every day it’s been open.”

After surviving the first day of practice, sophomore business major and new fencer Tori Maher was the only one left standing of her friends.

“I signed up at orientation and a couple of my friends signed up with me,” Maher said. “They quit after the first day because it was intense and they were like there is no way I’m putting in that much effort.”

Maher said Hollywood sparked her interest in fencing.

“I saw it in The Parent Trap and thought it was pretty cool so that swayed me into joining,” Maher said. “It’s a pretty cool sport and it’s very unique.”

The club is made up of fencers of all skill levels from the experienced like Guerra to new fencers like Maher. The team regular competes in Southwest Intercollegiate Fencing Association competitions against clubs from high profile schools such as Baylor University, the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University.

Koch said competitions are fun to participate in and it’s always a challenge which gives him an adrenaline rush.

“It forces you to think on your feet while thinking with your feet,” Koch said. “You have to constantly move back and forth keeping your distance from your opponent while planning strategies on the go and trying to get around your opponents defenses.”

While Maher and Castaneda said they enjoy competing, another reason keeps them coming back week after week: the people.

“Everybody is willing to help you out and teach you different things,” Maher said. “Everybody’s friendly here and real open to new people.”

“It’s the people here. They are very nice and friendly and I guess the whole sport of it. It’s the friendliness,” Cataneda said. “It’s a very friendly sport. Before you do your bout, you salute your opponent and after the bout you shake their hand.”

Many of the fencers added that they plan to pursue fencing after college and hope to find ways to keep participating in the sport. But for now, they’re content learning more about the sport they love.

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