If you see a group of students jabbing each other with swords in Fayerweather and think “Oh no-larpers,” think again. These people are fencing.
Up until three years ago, there was no fencing club on campus. Times have changed.
“Students are definitely looking for fencing clubs,” said Sarah T. Lerman-Sinkoff ’14. “We get a lot of emails from interested prospective students. A lot from parents, as well.”
Lerman-Sinkoff said she almost decided not to attend Wesleyan because there was no fencing team.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” Jen Paykin ’12 said. “Most colleges have either varsity teams, or at least clubs for fencing.”
Paykin had been on her high school fencing team for four years when she arrived at Wesleyan, only to discover the fencing team had been defunct for decades.
“I found pictures of the fencing team in the gym,” Paykin said. “But they’re from the 1950s or 60s. I don’t know why it disbanded.”
Paykin founded the Fencing Club during her freshman year in 2008, along with Joel Salda ’11.
“It was a small club,” Paykin said. “We started with five people, no money, and no equipment.”
Club membership has expanded since then, although the club has faced its share of struggles.
“A lot of people told me they didn’t know about it,” Paykin said, despite her and Salda’s efforts to advertise on campus.
In addition, the club had to cope with constant changeovers, since it was difficult to accommodate both novice and advanced fencers. Membership only managed to stabilize during the middle of last year, when the club began to hold regular practices.
The club has faced logistical problems as well.
“Funding was definitely a problem,” Paykin said. “The administration is more willing to fund the varsity teams. We currently get our funding from the SBC and charge a membership fee of $10.”
Accompanying the lack of funding was a lack of foils and other fencing accessories, but the club was lucky to receive some second-hand equipment.
“Joel [Salda] is from New Orleans,” Paykin said. “After Hurricane Katrina, his high school fencing team disbanded and left Joel with all their equipment.”
Space was also an issue. After a brief stint in Field House, the club moved practice to Fayerweather, where they currently practice Tuesdays from 7:30-9 p.m., and Saturdays from 4-6 p.m.
Despite their shortcomings, the fencing club has not relented in its efforts to establish itself as a club sport on campus and has hired Jennette Starks-Faulkner of Middletown as an official coach.
Faulkner was ranked second in the World Championship in Croatia for veteran foil, won the gold medal in the USA Fencing National Championships, fences professionally in Berlin, and is currently a member of the Connecticut Fencers Club.
“The quality of instruction has definitely made the club better,” Paykin said. “There are three kinds of fencing: saber, foil, and epee. Not all of the captains had experience in each type, which made it difficult when novices needed help with instruction.”
The fencing club hopes to expand its presence on campus so that they can compete in club leagues.
“I know schools like Amherst and Williams have club leagues, and hopefully we’ll eventually join,” Paykin said. “For now we’re focusing on raising the skill level of novices and acquiring electrical equipment as well.”
Currently, the club consists of mostly novice fencers, although they hope to bring back the former members.
“We’re trying to build a team,” Paykin said. “We’re encouraging new people to come on a regular basis until they’re at a good skill level. We’ll give the more experienced fencers more leeway for now.”
The club is optimistic that it will grow and expand into a more integral presence as a club sport on campus.
“Running a club and dealing with administration is difficult,” Paykin said. “I’m just really happy we experienced the growth we had and look forward to the future.”