By: Michele DiPasquale
It may be surprising to read, but the sport of fencing is alive and well. In fact, fencing is increasingly popular as a new sport for beginners, while the more experienced – and even masters of the art – continue enjoying and excelling in this 12th-century sport.
While fencing and its training date back as early on the calendar as the 1100s, modern fencing reached its zenith around the 1700s and was most popular in Italy, France, and Spain. The term “fencing” is translated to mean “the art of using a sword scientifically,” and for hundreds of years the sport has been embraced arguably far more by Europeans than Americans. But, like soccer, the U.S. has become quite adept at fencing; and in fact, it has been taught in some American schools and private academies since the 18th century, so it’s not so surprising that Americans are becoming almost as competitive in the sport as their European peers.
Fencing is actually a group of three related combat sports, or disciplines, known as the foil, the epee, and the sabre. The object of the sport is to score a point – or touch – by hitting your opponent’s target with your weapon before they score a point on you, but the rules, strategies, and target areas differ with each weapon to make the games distinct. Most competitive fencers choose to specialize in one weapon only.
The Livingston High School Lancers fencing team have – for the very first time – won the New Jersey state title. They are also victorious in earning the overall team title in the biggest high school fencing tournament in the country. 48 teams competed for the honor of the New Jersey State Fencing title this year; plausibly the largest high school fencing tournament in the world, and certainly in the United States.
To make things even more interesting, the Livingston Lancers had to defeat the two-time champion St. Peter’s Prep in the state tournament finals. Their crushing hard work paid off with superior work from junior Fillip Kizhner and senior Max Shen who reversed a 4-1 lead by their rivals, St. Peter’s, to rise as the champions for the first state fencing title in Livingston High School history.
Moreover, the Livingston Lancers acquired the overall team title at the esteemed and highly regarded, exclusive Cetrulo Tournament in January of this year, finishing first in the sabre category, seventh in the epee and 10th in the foil.
Livingston Lancers coach George Janto has proudly led his team for many years, and it is in his last and final season that Coach Janto can rejoice in his triumph with the Lancers at having come so very far during his tenure.
“The senior leadership and resilience on this team has been strong all year and rubs off on all the team members,” Coach Janto said.
For nearly 20 years, Maplewood’s Columbia High School had led in their fencing program, so Coach Janto and the Lancers were sweetly gratified at defeating Columbia’s team, a real force to be reckoned with. Ironically, Coach Janto secured his very first state title as the Columbia team’s coach in 2009 before shifting to Livingston High School in 2010.
“It was a real honor to beat such a formidable team,” Coach Janto said.
The state title for Livingston finishes a remarkable season for the Livingston Lancers, also won Cetrulo, the biggest high school fencing tournament in the country, and succeeded that by capturing the state squad title in sabre.
Coach Janto, 74, has been a leader in the growth and development of students’ fencing all along the state of New Jersey. He is an organizer of the United States Fencing Association (USFA) tournaments and a member of the USFA’s Interscholastic/Intercollegiate Development Committee. In addition to this year’s recognition, Coach Janto was further named as the 2013 New Jersey State “Fencing Coach of the Year” by the NJSIAA and the National Federation of High Schools.
Fencing is a fantastic sport for students as it offers both a physical and mental workout. Fencers learn strategy, physical endurance, dexterity, and accuracy, as well as learning sportsmanship and gaining confidence which can extend to and help in positive ways in other areas of life.