Fencers Compete In Columbus For National Titles

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Fencers from across the country compete in Columbus this week-end for national titles.(Photo: Sally Xia/WOSU)

While college football, pro hockey, and golf dominate sports in Columbus, this week a much older form of sport takes center stage at the Columbus Convention Center. Four-thousand athletes, in light armor, with flexible swords, are competing in a national fencing tournament.

The sport of fencing has been around for centuries. British Colonists brought it to North America in the 1600′s. Earlier, in medieval Europe, fencing was more than sport. Men in full body steel armor could fight to the death over a woman, to settle a debt, or to preserve honor.

Fencing has been part of the modern Olympic Games since their start in 1896.

“One of my coaches just calls it chess with swords.”

Jacob McConnell of Columbus registers competitors for the USA Fencing Association Nationals.

“This tournament, just this tournament we have anywhere from Y-10, so under ten, up through veteran-70, so 70 and up, says McConnell.”

Long rows of Steel mats with electronic scoreboards cover the convention center floor. Referees keep close watch as fencers lunge, feint or dodge, and attack to score points. Swords have tips that trigger wired clothing. Each sword touch registers a point on the electronic scoreboard. For some of the younger competitors, the swordplay is the main attraction.

Q) You like playing with swords? Erb: “Yeah, I went and watched a little bit and I saw people stabbing each other with swords and that sounded like fun to me.”
Carla Erb traveled from suburban Pittsburgh to compete in this week’s fencing tournament, says Erb.

“I’m a defensive fencer , I like to wait for somebody to come to me and make the first attack and then I like to attack.”

Other competitors, Ben Scholl of Portland, Oregon and Lucas Johnson of Reno, Nevada also chose fencing over football, soccer, or baseball. For them too, it was the call of the sword.

I guess basically because I watched a lot of swashbuckler films, because I love all the sword-fighting. And I thought to myself. That’s what I want to do one day. Like you said, It’s not a very popular sport for young men but they’re missing out a lot, says Johnson.”

“Well, I’ve always been liking swords. When I was three I had a little plastic sword so when I figured out there was a sport you could use swords in, it was just like that, boom, my sport, Scholl adds.”

Scholl is 14 years old and is competing nationally for the first time. His dad, Greg Scholl says he first realized his son’s talent after a come from behind victory about a year ago.

“That was the first time I saw him really come back from behind in a long bout and compete very well and I just thought, wow, I had no idea that you could do that. And it was fun to watch but also a big victory for him and that was actually how he qualified for the national tournament and how we got to come to Columbus, says Ben Scholl.”

The stakes are high for top fencers during Columbus’ tournament. While it’s not a matter of life and death, winners here improve their chances for college scholarships and maybe a spot in the next Olympics.

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