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USA Fencing Selects Fourth Quarter Spirit of Sport Recipients

06/03/2020, 5:45pm CDT
By Kristen Henneman

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – USA Fencing is pleased to announce the 2019-20 season’s fourth and final group of recipients for the Spirit of Sport Recognition Program, recognizing those in the fencing community who have exemplified outstanding dedication to the sport and are an inspiration to others.

Each quarter, recipients from each region are chosen based on commitment and dedication to the sport as well as their club, respect, teamwork, inclusion, passion, sportsmanship and character.

The recipients for the fourth quarter’s Spirit of Sport Award are as follows:

  • Mallika and Ketki Ketkar (Sammamish, Wash.)
  • Bob Skurka (Lowell, Ind.)
  • Jeff Spahn (Clinton Corners, N.Y.)
  • Mary Cantalejo (Santa Clarita, Calif.)
  • Mihir Kumashi (Houston, Texas)
  • Scott Groussman (Lilburn, Ga.)

All selections will receive a USA Fencing Spirit of Sport t-shirt and bag tag.

In addition, for the second straight season, USA Fencing will honor one annual Spirit of Sport winner. In the upcoming weeks, a selection committee will name the top selection in each region as well as one wildcard choice from the pool of 24 winners named throughout the season. The fencing community will then select the winner from the final seven in an online vote available to the entire USA Fencing membership.

More information on each of the winners can be found below:

Region 1: Mallika and Ketki Ketkar (Sammamish, Wash.)

Mallika (left) and Ketki (right) Ketkar

Club: Kaizen Fencing Academy
Age: 15
Weapon: Épée
Number of Years Fencing: Six
Nominated By: Kevin Mar (Club owner and coach)

Twins Mallika and Ketki Ketkar have always been ideal students at the club. Both dedicated and hardworking, they encourage others to work hard while also bringing joy to those around them. They are true team players in normal circumstances, but have gone above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ketkar twins pitched in to help wherever they could, editing online videos and assisting to organize online meetings with Olympians, coaches and referees, who spoke on topics such as training in isolation, sport psychology and balancing fencing and academics as a way for everyone to stay involved with the sport and keep morale high. Mallika and Ketki Ketkar also helped in the community, picking up and delivering groceries with all tips being given back to the club.

“At 15 years of age, these acts of selfless service are commendable,” Kevin Mar said. “Fencing teaches life lessons and these girls are the embodiment of those values. They represent sportsmanship, selfless service and community spirit.”

Region 2: Bob Skurka (Lowell, Ind.)

Club: Northwest Indiana Fencing Club
Age: 59
Nominated By: JG Habela (Club manager at Redstar Fencing Club Chicago)

Bob Skurka works tirelessly to see fencing grow not just in his own club, but in all of Region 2. As a coach, his unbiased approach allows each fencer he comes into contact with to thrive, giving them access to all clubs and encouraging clubs to collaborate and share ideas to create the best environment for all. Skurka gives each fencer and their family as much information as he can so they can make decisions based on their own goals and celebrates fencers across the region on social media, regardless of their level. He keeps the community informed as well, whether that’s assisting with the college recruitment process, providing support and traveling with families to competitions so that fencers get more experience or sharing data during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering information on Indiana’s re-entry phasing so that club owners have a template they can use to prepare of their own clubs to reopen.

“Bob's modest approach is humble and unbiased. He requires no acknowledgement and serves our fencing community solely on the premise of betterment,” JG Habala said. “On behalf of RedStar Fencing Club Chicago, we feel that Bob Skurka is a valued member of our community, and we proudly nominate him for USA Fencing Spirit of the Sport.”

Region 3: Jeff Spahn (Clinton Corners, N.Y.)

Club: The Phoenix Center
Age: 70
Weapon: Épée
Number of Years Fencing: 54
Nominated By: Eric Soyka (Coach)

With more than 50 years of fencing experience, Jeff Spahn is a great example of how fencing is a lifetime sport, and he has inspired so many around him. Those who have spent time around Spahn have watched him work hard to achieve his goals of earning an A rating at 70 years old and qualifying for the Veteran World Championship Team, bringing home team gold from Cairo last year. As a result, Spahn was exemplary in exhibiting the mindset needed to improve and was a role model in showing people to never dream too big as well as how to reach one’s goals. Off the strip, Spahn – who has a PhD in physics – helps the younger students with their homework and is engaging to all around him, sharing his own fencing experience as well as his experience as a volunteer assistant coach at Vassar College with other athletes.

 “He has shown our athletes that it is possible to have a long productive athletic career, achieve amazing professional goals and still have time to give back to the fencing community,” Eric Soyka said. “For a lifetime spent contributing to fencing, I feel Jeff is a deserving fit for Spirit of Sport.”

Region 4: Mary Cantalejo (Santa Clarita, Calif.)

Club: Unattached (Fences at Chaminade High School)
Age: 17
Weapons: Épée and foil
Number of Years Fencing: Five
Nominated By: Sophia Mutell (Teammate)

The epitome of an outstanding teammate, Mary Contalejo makes her fellow high school fencers feel welcomed and valued, regardless of experience. New teammates are immediately embraced and included with Cantalejo always offering the time to help her teammates improve. She encourages her teammates when they are down and knows how to make everyone smile. At practice, Cantalejo always gives 100% and at tournaments, she is respectful to her opponents and referees, making new friends with other fellow fencers. Her passion is infectious and she wants the best for her team. When the COVID-19 pandemic kept the team from taking team photos in person, Cantalejo took action, organizing a virtual call and ensuring everyone could attend so the team would have a picture included in the yearbook.

“I see her as a role model for me, and a role model for all who join our team,” Sophia Mutell said. “When I need a reminder of why I love fencing, I look to Mary because she represents all the good the sport brings. Mary never looks for praise for her actions, and if she knew I was nominating her, she probably wouldn't let me. Mary is absolutely amazing and anyone who is her teammate or friend is so lucky to know her, and we are so lucky to have her on our team, because she makes it a family.”

Region 5: Mihir Kumashi (Houston, Texas)

Club: Alliance Fencing Academy
Age: 17
Weapon: Épée
Number of Years Fencing: 10
Nominated By: Andrey Geva (Coach and club owner)

Known as a polite student who always respects those around him and supports and encourages his teammates, Mihir Kumashi is an honest fencer who shows great sportsmanship. Multiple times he has admitted to his opponent scoring a touch when it was missed by the referee. Kumashi is extremely dedicated, practicing six days a week while balancing being a straight A student. In his free time, he can be found watching fencing videos to learn new techniques and strategies from the world’s top fencers. After narrowly missing out on the Cadet World Team last season, Kumashi became more motivated to make the Junior World Team this year, and accomplished his goal in February when the team was announced.

“He needed at least a top 16 to make the team. He had never made a top 32 at Junior World Cups, but this time he finished in the top 16 and made the Junior World Team as the youngest member of the team,” Andrey Geva said. “During that World Cup he defeated one of his competitors who is twice as tall as him for the World Team, 15-14, after he lost to him last season, 14-15, to make the Cadet Team.”

Region 6: Scott Groussman (Lilburn, Ga.)

Club: Unattached (President of On Guard High School Fencing League)
Age: 50+
Nominated By: Multiple Nominations

In his years running the On Guard High School Fencing League, Scott Groussman has spent countless hours growing the sport of fencing and maintaining a three-weapon league, even after his own child graduated. He persevered through the early years and growing pains to keep the league active and now, as a result of his efforts, many schools that would not have fencing without his efforts have given hundreds of high school students the opportunity to compete and be successful in the sport. Groussman puts the fencer first, on his or her growth and knowledge of the sport. According to others, the league is well run, competitive and focuses on good sportsmanship and respect. Fencers who may not be able to compete in large local events can be competitive in individual and team events. A mentor to the students, Groussman is fair, professional, friendly, patient and approachable. Known for his positive attitude, he is willing to change, learn and try new approaches to the sport when needed.

“High school fencing in Georgia owes Scott Groussman a debt of gratitude that we can likely never repay,” said Karen Kelley, a parent of a fencer in the league. “Anything that the clubs have needed -- support, coaching, encouragement, information, education -- Scott has been more than willing to provide. He works tirelessly to promote and support fencing through the On Guard High School Fencing League. He deserves the honor of being recognized for his love of the sport and his unwavering support of the fencers.”

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