Rock Hill High begins new fencing club

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comOctober 1, 2013 

  • Fencing 101 Here are some commonly used fencing terms:

    Advance – to take a step toward one’s opponent

    En garde – literally “on guard,” in a ready-to-fight position

    Engagement – when opponents’ blades are touching, ready to begin an attack

    Epee – a fencing weapon with a thicker blade than a foil and bell-shaped guard over the grip

    Foil – a fencing weapon with a thin blade and small bell guard, with a cover on the tip to be safe for practice

    Sabre – a fencing weapon with a flat blade and a knuckle cover on the grip

    Salute – an acknowledgment of the opponent and referee at the start and end of a bout

While some Rock Hill High School students pull on football helmets or pick up tennis rackets or start running through fields and woods after school, another group of students assemble in the cafeteria and pick up a very different kind of sporting equipment – a foil.

These students are part of Rock Hill High’s new Fencing Club, started by Jeremy Shaw, the orchestra director, and Robbie Compton, who is the director of federal programs in the South Carolina Public Charter School District.

At a recent Tuesday meeting, the fencing club members gather around their coaches, Compton and Shaw. Although the students are itching to get into gear and start poking at each other with the foils, they start like any other sports practice might, with warm-ups.

“Let’s go, let’s start with some push-ups,” Compton says, and with a groan, the students are down on the ground.

Fencing is only half weapon-work, Compton said. The rest is footwork, so stretching, warm-ups and practicing technique are important. But when teaching high school kids who are so eager to get started, the coaches are being flexible in their approach.

“If I don’t get a weapon in these kids’ hands and get them hitting each other soon, we’re going to lose these kids’ interest,” Compton said.

At this practice, all two dozen or so of the students seemed very well engaged.

On one side of the cafeteria, half moved through footwork exercises, practicing advancing and retreating, while pretending to hold weapons.

On the other side, with protective jackets and helmets on, another group picked up foils – thin-bladed weapons with protected tips – and practiced sparring with each other, the sound of metal clanking blending with the squeaking of sneakers.

Freshman David Garcia donned his gear enthusiastically and picked up his weapon.

“I’ve wanted to do (fencing) since 5th grade,” he said, explaining that he always liked seeing sword fighting in movies.

Actually learning the proper techniques, Garcia said, has taught him how in-depth the skills actually go.

Fencing teaches a wide variety of skills, Shaw said, and not just athletic ones.

“It teaches strategy,” he said. “It’s constantly reading your opponent and yourself.”

Shaw was involved with fencing when he was a student at Winthrop University, which is where he met Compton, who was the leader of the Fencing Club for several years. Both drifted away from the sport after graduating, but recently decided to get involved once more.

Shaw wanted to bring it to his students, and Compton was happy to help out.

“Fencing is not the cheapest sport, but to offer this opportunity to the masses at Rock Hill High at a very cheap cost to them is super exciting and quite gratifying,” Compton said.

The Rock Hill area is home to a small but growing fencing community, Compton and Shaw said. Summerwood Fencing Academy just opened several weeks ago on Ebenezer Road and has been lending safety and sparring equipment to the Rock Hill High club, until its members can raise enough money to buy their own.

A few other Upstate high schools have fencing clubs, Compton said, and are in talks with Rock Hill to try to develop an interscholastic league among the schools. About half of the students in the Rock Hill club have expressed interest in competing in tournaments locally, he said. The club is even hoping to host a tournament at the high school in the spring.

But whether they want to compete or not, many of the students said they joined the club because it seemed interesting and different.

“It’s kind of challenging, a little bit,” said senior Jennifer Towery. “But it’s really fun to do.”

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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