Fencing makes its Sussex County debut at Pope John

Sparta. The high school is starting a fencing club to nurture skills in an original Olympic sport with roots in the medieval martial arts.

| 04 Oct 2021 | 05:59

Did you ever happen upon the sport of fencing while checking out the Olympic games? The answer is probably yes: fencing has been part of the games since 1896, when the first modern Olympics was held in Athens.

Fencing has evolved from the medieval martial art of swordplay to part and parcel of military training between the 14th and 15th centuries. Today fencing lives on as a modern and exciting competitive sport.

Fencing uses three weapons that are lightweight, flexible, and without sharp points or edges. It’s safe, it’s unique, and it’s debuting in Sussex County at Pope John XXIII High School this fall.

“The sport of fencing has retained its romantic image while continuing to challenge participants,” said Mark Trudnos, the fencing coach who is shepherding the program. “It may look dangerous, but it’s actually one of the safest sports. It’s also great for getting into the best colleges that not only considering fencing a plus, but actively recruit skilled high school fencers because they are relatively rare.”

The program will start as a club at Pope John and, if the sign up numbers are adequate, transition into a sport.

Constant offense and defense

The goal of a fencing competition is to sword your opponent making sure that you’re not being hit yourself by your. So, it’s constant offense and defense. Three forms of weapon fencing are contested in the Olympics – foil fencing, epée fencing, and sabre fencing.

The epée is the heaviest sword, the foil is a lighter thrusting one, and the sabre is a cutting and thrusting sword that has its roots in the military sword. Fencers usually choose to play a single weapon (foil or epée or sabre), and Trudnos is exceptionally well-versed at teaching all three.

“We’d like to get it going throughout the Catholic Academy of Sussex County to include younger children,” said Mia Gavin, Pope John’s athletic director. “The numbers need to increase to make it a NJSIAA sport. Currently, we have 29 sports here and would certainly welcome fencing.”

The program will be held on Wednesdays and Fridays at the Sparta PAL adjacent to Station Park. Athletes will have the option of either renting or purchasing equipment.

Fencing is open to both boys and girls. Women’s fencing debuted in the Olympics in Paris in 1924.

“The equipment looks expensive but is actually no more so than that for other school sports,” Trudnos said. “State-of-the-art, up-to-the-minute equipment has improved the sport immensely in recent years.”

Some pretty fascinating people are fencers including Facebook found Mark Zuckerberg.

“It’s a great sport to develop discipline and technique,” Trudnos said. “There are frequent mind challenges in the sport, and each fencing session challenges your muscles involving your feet, lower legs, neck, shoulders and arms.”

‘A sport for life’

Trudnos got his start with fencing when he was about 12 and living in Poland.

“I loved my soccer but my dad wanted me to have a secondary sport,” he said. “We waited in a long line on the one day of the year that kids can try out for fencing in their town. Several days later, we got the word that I was in.”

Then came the tough part for Trudnos. He wanted to maintain his soccer and pick up fencing. The time involved to do both became overwhelming, and after an ultimatum from his soccer coach, he chose fencing.

“Fencing is certainly much, much safer, and so many kids play soccer that play time and competition for spots are very big,” Trudnos said. “With fencing, everyone participates, and it’s both an individual and team sport.”

Trudnos has coached numerous athletes over the years.

“I started taking lessons from (Trudnos) in 2008,” said Matthew Skinner. “His first and foremost concern has always been the well-being of his students, regardless of whether it would impact him negatively financially. This is a mindset that I highly respect.”

Skinner said he has only ever met one other person capable of effectively teaching all three weapons at Trudnos’ level. “He is extremely versatile in this respect as he is very knowledgeable about the workings of each weapon,” he said.

Trudnos said he knows young children who fence, and he also knows an 88-year-old fencer. “It’s a sport for life,” he said.

Practices will be on Wednesdays and Fridays at 3:30 at the Sparta PAL, 8 Station Road, Sparta. Interested students can call/text Trudnos at 201-240-8583 or e-mail mark@nationalfencing.com

Also check out the National Fencing website at nationalfencing.com.

“The sport of fencing has retained its romantic image while continuing to challenge participants. It may look dangerous, but it’s actually one of the safest sports. It’s also great for getting into the best colleges that not only considering fencing a plus.” Mark Trudnos