Four afternoons a week, after most students and teachers have left for the day, 15 dedicated Upper School students slip on fitted white jackets, cropped pants, long socks and masks. Grabbing their weapons of choice – épée, foil or saber – the group members assemble in Gym 6. For the next 90 minutes, they work on strengthening their skills and endurance for upcoming matches, achieving their personal best and bonding with their teammates. There’s also music and laughter.
We’re talking about fencing, a sport Chapin has participated in for decades. However, the 2019-20 team represents a significant – and exciting – shift for this enduring winter program.
Up until last year, Chapin hosted Interschool fencing, competing as a girls team and a boys team (the Interschool consortium includes Chapin, Brearley, Browning, Collegiate, Dalton, Nightingale, Spence and Trinity). Because of logistical challenges associated with managing a multi-school team and a steady decrease in enrollment, Director of Athletics Michelle Caywood decided, moving forward, to focus exclusively on Chapin fencing.
Thus, since November, the Chapin-only team has operated as a stand-alone entity in the Independent School Fencing League (ISFL), competing against other area schools including Avenues, Hackley, Horace Mann, LREI, Marymount and Rye Country Day.
So far, the reconfigured team has exceeded expectations on several levels. As Ms. Caywood explained, “I am so impressed with the number of students who joined the fencing team this year. We have fencers who are brand new to the sport as well as seasoned, international competitors.” She continued, “Walking into a practice and seeing the smiles, support for one another and the total ‘all in’ attitude is truly remarkable.”
Along with a range of abilities, it is noteworthy that the team – coached by professional fencer Drew Salko and Middle School Spanish teacher Debora Lee – encompasses a mix of grades. Of the 15 members, there are six from Class 11, five from Class 10 (as well as a Class 10 manager, who does not compete) and four from Class 9. By all appearances, these students are making the most of this invaluable after-school activity.
“I love the fencing team!” exclaimed one student. “I was hesitant in the beginning, but my teammates and coaches really make the team as great as it is. Everyone is super caring and supportive. Everyone should give fencing a try, even if you see yourself as non-athletic. It is a very rewarding experience and something you would cherish throughout your life.”
Another teammate added, “As someone who hadn’t participated in sports in the past, fencing sounded like an amazing option for a beginner athlete. I fence épée, so I assist with certain drills. I have spent an extensive amount of time curating music for practices, which I think brings up the energy. I really enjoy being on the team! I love interacting with the younger grades and being able to hang out with my friends in my grade whom I don’t see on a regular basis.”
Back in Gym 6, an energetic practice session was underway. After warming up, the team members secured their protective gear and coated their sneakers on a sticky pad to prevent slips. After Coach Salko announced “Ready, set, fence,” the opponents gracefully lunged at one another with their sleek swords, scoring points and gaining confidence along the way.
“Each fencer has demonstrated significant growth in her respective weapons,” commented Ms. Caywood. “Led by strong captains and excellent coaches, this is a team to keep an eye on!”
Varsity Fencing, 2019-20 Team:
Meghan Barr, Class 10
Joy Dimen, Class 11
Aimee Fernandez, Class 10
Darcy Green, Class 9
Grace Kim, Class 10
Katherine Kim, Class 11
Natalia Lashley, Class 9
Veronica Marotta, Class 11 (Co-captain)
Mansia, Momo, Class 9
Carina Nanan, Class 11
Julia Petkov, Class 10
Naomi Rawlins, Class 10
Christina Salas, Class 11
Elaina Taylor, Class 9
Zumaya Toussaint-Farrell, Class 10 (Manager)
Lynna Tsai, Class 11 (Co-captain)
Drew Salko and Debora Lee, Coaches