In addition to basketball, soccer and hockey, Brock University also has a rich history of fencing. Fencing began at Brock in 1967 when then-student Ken Douglas sought permission from then-Athletic Director Arnie Lowenberger to create a fencing team. At the time, it was one of the first two varsity sports, the other being rowing. After upgrading the club to a varsity team with about four players (the current roster is at 48 players), Douglas then went on to win Brock’s first-ever Individual Championship at the OUAA (the precursor to OUA) level in his specialty event, men’s foil. He was inducted into Brock’s Hall of Fame in 2012.
Something that has developed Brock Fencing from its humble beginnings to the grandeur it now holds is the Brock Fencing Academy for local youth between ages six and 17 to train in competitive fencing, and then hopefully attend Brock and compete on the competitive team. The program was conceived six years ago by coach Tim Stang.
“Fencing in the community needed more than just introduction programs, you needed to learn more than how to fence. You needed to learn how to compete,” said Stang.
The program has seen great success with four freshmen members of this year’s varsity team graduating from the Academy. One of those freshmen, Dario Smagata-Bryan, says that he “knew a lot of people here already and a lot of them are in higher year, so they are a safety net if I need anyone to go to.” In addition, three athletes from the Academy will be entering the National High Performance Program, the selection ground for the national team.
This project has been a labour of love for Stang who has invested a lot time and effort into Brock Fencing. Since arriving as a Badger over 25 years ago in the Physics Computer Science program, he has never left Brock Fencing. Since joining the team that was then coached by Kirk and Kathy Girard (who Stang still works with today) he has maintained some role within the team. He has also managed local companies and even worked for the Canadian Fencing Federation.
“I believe in Brock. I think there is a culture at Brock you can’t find at any other institution, and as a small sport, Brock has really embraced the sport. They’re very proud of what we do,” said Stang.
Stang has very high hopes and expectations for the team this year, after a season in which freshman Matthew McLeod won a gold medal at the National University Fencing Championships.
“We’re going to grow on that [last] season from here. We’ve brought in a few seasoned players in their first-year [from the Academy] so they’re getting their feet on the ground. I expect us to come home on our men’s side with a few medals at least,” said Stang. “On our women’s side, we’re in a rebuilding year. We have some strong players, with the possibility of medalling, but unfortunately, we’ve had a turnover of graduates, so this year we’re bringing in new recruits and we’re going to build the dynasty there.”
Something that Stang and the players believe will be a big help in meeting their goals this year is the addition of the new High Performance Centre. Logan Wilford, a junior who has taken a leadership role within the team, says that he, “can already see the progress in the team. It’s amazing to have a program designed specifically for our sport to make us perform better.”
While fencing may sometimes seem that is an elitist leisure activity that takes years of technical training to perform, both players and coaches want to break that stigma around fencing and encourage everyone to get involved with the sport.
Wilford notes that fencing is a great sport because, “not only do you have to be physically fit, you’re also using your brain a lot so you get to work both sides of your body.”
For those worried about costs, Brock runs an introductory class that carries 16 lessons and full rental equipment for just $50. Also, if you plan on competing, the varsity team will also loan you all your gear for the first year. If you are interested in fencing, Coach Stang invites anyone to drop by their practices in the dance studio on weekday evenings and he can accommodate them into the introductory classes. Moreover, there are about three open houses each year where anyone can come try fencing for free and see if they are “prêt” for the sport.
The Brock Fencing Team hosts the Brock Open on November 18 and 19. They encourage all students, faculty, and alumni to come out and support their fellow Badgers as they take on 800 intercollegiate athletes from all across Eastern Canada and upstate New York.