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Responding to Orient coverage of the fencing team

December 3, 2021

This piece represents the opinion of the author.

I’ve just read the article the Orient published about us last Friday: “No coach, no problem: fencing club is going strong.”I have objections.

I’m Joanne. I can be found bossing new fencers around Buck 213, carrying more fencing equipment around Smith Union than my knees and back think I can handle or generally making a nuisance of myself badgering people about fencing. There’s a view of me from the back in the picture attached to the article. I’ve been fencing for eight years, and I teach with Casey Edmonds-Estes ’22, our esteemed captain this year, and Tate Taczak ’23, with whom I’ll be co-captain next year.

I don’t disagree with the article that we’re going strong, even without a coach. In terms of performance, enthusiasm and our competition schedule, I’d say that we’re indeed doing well. I just don’t think that the article is a very accurate profile of our team.

Our team is composed primarily of new fencers, who merit more recognition than the article gave them. Justin Huang ’24 (Mr. Huang, as he likes to be called) and Benjamin Pinto Arroyo ’25 (Pinto), just showed up one day; the rest, like Ben Donahue ’24  and Justin Dong ’24 (Mr. Dong, as he is called, solely to differentiate him from Mr. Huang), trickled in after the Student Activities Fair.

I think any profile of our team that doesn’t hold these fencers up as our heart and soul has failed. Casey, Tate and I have been working with them for two months now (has the semester really passed so quickly?), and I can only marvel at how quickly they’ve progressed. They began the semester stumbling like newborn giraffes and could be mistaken now for elegant. I joke: I can’t express enough how proud we are of them. They fenced well at our first competition on October 30, and I have no doubt that they’ll do even better at our next one. It’s true that we can’t fence in intercollegiate competitions, but rest assured that we bring glory to Bowdoin when we compete.

So, we don’t have a coach. We haven’t been recognized as a club by the United States Fencing Association (USFA) since 2007. We don’t turn up as a club sport in any of Bowdoin’s promotional materials. That’s fine. This is the reality of playing a niche sport like fencing at a small school like Bowdoin; interest dies out once or twice a decade, and the next team captain who comes along will have to build things from the ground up—again. It would help to have a coach to hold down the fort as students graduate every four years, but there’s a shortage of candidates in Brunswick, Maine.

Perhaps our lack of a coach makes things harder, but it’s hardly what I’d focus on in a profile of our team. Casey is a brilliant teacher, and I’d say that Tate and I are adept at running the show in his absence and at teaching in our own rights. While having to coach ourselves is inconvenient, we’re managing, and I think it’s more important that we celebrate how the challenge has made us a more cohesive team. Nothing gives me quite so much joy as hearing how our new fencers advise and encourage each other.

Beyond our next competition, what does the future look like for us? In the short-term, we’re scrambling to learn as much from our captain, Casey, as possible before he graduates. After that? We’ll keep fencing. One can teach footwork, bladework and basic strategy, but passion for the sport has to come from within—and I’m pleased to report that we’re a team of incredibly passionate fencers. Keeping this team going with the minimal support we have is not going to be easy, but I think we agree that it’s worth it. With the fencers we have now and those to come, we’ve got this.

Joanne Du is a member of the Class of 2024.

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