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Ithaca College Fencing Club Focuses on Developing Young Talent

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUbeqrpy08E

Fencing can be a forgotten part of the sports world, getting highlighted every four years at the Summer Olympics. Yet fencing doesn’t get the same play in the headlines as do other sports. Despite the lack of attention, the fencing community at Ithaca College is gaining momentum.

The Ithaca College Fencing Club graduated a large than normal senior class in 2017, and one that boasted a competitive nature. One year later, Ithaca College senior Ben Cafaro, president of the club, has pivoted towards a focus on building a fencing community and developing newcomers.

“Whether they’re starting new or been fencing for a while, we want to bring everyone and bring them on the same level at least on a sportsmanship level of the game,” Cafaro said, “Where everyone can learn from each other and can have fun at the same time.”

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Ben Cafaro, right, has taken the role of teacher for his incoming fencers. (Photo/Jeb Biggart)

The team is made up of predominantly first-year students of all skill levels, many of whom have never picked up a sword before. Without a coach, the responsibility to teach and mentor the newcomers falls directly on the upperclassmen of the team.

Many of the rookies got their first taste in competitive fencing when the team traveled to Binghamton on Oct. 28 for its first tournament of the year.

“When you start getting competitive and you have your friends now coaching you and telling you what to do, it really adds to the whole experience,” Cafaro said. “Even though we are a recreational club and we’re focused on teaching people the sport, we want to get out there and be competitive with some teams.”

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Fencing has three separate disciplines: foil, épée, and sabre. (Photo/Jeb Biggart)

The responsibility of teaching brand new fencers can seem intimidating, especially for a full-time student. But Lucas Hickman, a junior, takes pride in teaching the rookies and passing down his knowledge of fencing.

“Starting fencing is an exciting time for both a student and a teacher,” Hickman said. “Working with a brand new fencer on their fundamentals gives you the opportunity to work on your own fundamentals while passing on what you know to a new fencer.”

Beginning an entirely new sport as an 18-year-old can be a daunting task for some. There’s a stigma around sports that leaves newcomers discouraged from being so far behind from their peers. The community that the upperclassmen have created alleviates that stigma to give their rookies an environment in which to thrive.

“I never really thought it was that daunting,” said freshman fencer, Ryan Ng. “I thought it was just a fun thing to do with my friends. All my friends decided to do it, so I thought ‘Why not?'”

Fencing is a one-of-a-kind sport in which you’re part of a team but your competition is entirely individual. For freshman Tenzin Namgyel, this individualism allows him to thrive when fencing.

“It’s a sport where you can focus on yourself but you still have your own team,” said Namgyel. “You don’t have to worry about letting anyone down. You don’t have any pressure to have to support a bunch of people. You basically just pressure yourself.”

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The seniors of the team have taken it upon themselves to be the coaches and mentors for their freshman fencers. (Photo/Jeb Biggart)

Even if the team has lost many of its past upperclassmen, the team continues to stay relevant and draw in a crowd of incoming fencers. Hickman and his peers are willing to push aside their own development in order to better the entirety of the club and newcomers.

“The senior fencers on the team are more the coaches than anything else,” said Hickman. “We don’t work on our high-level techniques, instead focusing our efforts on bringing our new fencers up to speed.”

(Header Photo/Jeb Biggart)

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