Whether by phone, email, or in person, I get a lot pitches about just what it is we need in our schools. Actually, it can be quite overwhelming at times. So, when our District Principal of our Sports Academies said “I had to meet the fencing guys,” well, you can understand my skepticism.
Then, I met Igor Gantsevich, National Fencing Champion, World Cup & Pam American medalist. Now, several months later, there is something amazing happening in our district. We have had well over 2,000 students exposed to fencing through their PE classes, and in six of our schools out-of-school fencing clubs have started up, with more clubs possible and a district-wide showcase envisioned. And, this may just be the beginning, as Diane Nelson, District Principal of Academy Programs said in a recent North Shore News story, “Our vision is an international academy on the North Shore where students from all over the world would come to train. We hope that students from West Vancouver would funnel into this academy and receive scholarships for Ivy League schools.”
I have never tried fencing. My total exposure to it, until a few months ago, was watching some of it in Olympic coverage every four years, usually waiting for some other sports coverage, because despite it being part of the Olympic games since 1896, it is not a sport with a rich history in Canada. But Igor, the BC Fencing Association, and former World Champion Vitaly Logvin, and the current President of the international charity For Future of Fencing, are planning to change this.
Initially, we envisioned exposing students to fencing through PE classes this year, then looking at club programs next year and maybe an academy in the future. The timeline is speeding up — with club teams this year and interest from families for academy programming in the near future. As someone who grew up on hockey and ball sports, it is all quite amazing to see. When we featured a story on fencing for our district e-news publication Learning Curve, the ‘click rate’ dwarfed everything else in the edition. So what is going on? I have some thoughts on this:
- The fencing instructors are first class. Igor has a wonderful way with students and he has brought in former Olympic medalists to support him with the teaching. Teachers and instructors for these types of programs make the difference.
- There is a fair bit of equipment involved and the providers have taken care of all of the first class modern equipment for students to use.
- Although most students had previously never tried fencing, they had seen it at the Olympics or elsewhere, and there is a ‘cool factor’ to try it out.
- Fencing is a multi-age sport that can be done together with girls and boys; so, it is very inclusive.
- Since nobody has really practised fencing before, the skill levels are quite similar; when we divide up for soccer or basketball, even at the elementary school level, there can be a massive difference in skill levels which can be discouraging for some students.
- Fencing attracts a different type of student than would be playing ball sports. As École Cedardale Principal, Michelle LaBounty, pointed out in the North Shore News article — fencing sparks student imagination. “For students who do a lot of reading, fencing attaches an element of reality to their books,” she said. “It takes them to another time.”
- The number of young people participating is relatively small in Canada, so the opportunity to compete provincially, nationally or internationally, is a real possibility.
- While the sport does not have a rich history in Canada, it does in many other places around the world, and our community is very diverse. Many of our families grew up in countries where fencing is part of the culture,
It will be exciting to see what happens next. We want students to be more active and it is exciting how passionate so many of our students have become in such a short time about fencing. When I speak with Igor, he talks about the future Olympians he envisions from our partnership. It is quite incredible.