(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – USA Fencing is pleased to announce the seven finalists for the USA Fencing Spirit of Sport Annual Winner.
The second year of this recognition, the fencing community can now vote for the annual winner through Tuesday, July 7.
Each finalist was chosen by a selection committee with the top honoree of the four winners in each region, plus one wildcard selection, being selected based on the criteria of commitment, dedication, respect, teamwork, inclusion, passion, sportsmanship and character.
The seven finalists are:
Each finalist’s story is below. To vote, click here.
More information about the Spirit of Sport Recognition Program, as well as all of the 2019-20 winners, can be found at https://www.usafencing.org/spirit-of-sport.
Mallika (left) and Ketki (right) Ketkar
Club: Kaizen Fencing Academy
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.”
Club: Northwest Indiana Fencing Club
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.”
Club: The Phoenix Center
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.”
Chris Sauthoff (left)
Club: Denver Fencing Center
Nominated By: Nathan Anderson (Coach and Club Owner)
Chris Sauthoff was still using a cane when he first walked through the doors of Denver Fencing Center. Having suffered a stroke, Sauthoff worked diligently at fencing and the sport helped him with his recovery as he gained more and more muscle movements and functionality. Now, Sauthoff has paid it forward through coaching. He is the leader and main coach of the club’s program that works with adults with development disabilities, helping them prepare to fence in tournaments. Sauthoff also works with River Deep and Craig Hospital to teach fencing to people whose injuries require they use a wheelchair and vets with traumatic brain injuries.
“This once a month program has been hugely successful in showing these diverse groups fencing and the opportunity to improve your situation like it did for Chris,” Nathan Anderson said. “He is a huge inspiration figure in the club.”
Club: Alliance Fencing Academy
Number of Years Fencing: 14
Nominated By: Francesca Bassa (Teammate)
Last year at the age of 23, Lewis Weiss lost his father. Rather than shut down, Weiss stepped up for his family and threw himself into fencing, returning to work and training the day after the funeral and insisting he wanted to heal by spending time with the people and sport he loved. Focused on giving others his best, he’s risen to the challenge of being both a fencer and coach. He is always there for his students, working to inspire his younger fencers to be the best they can be on the strip and off. As a Division I fencer himself, Weiss can relate to his students while also teaching the important details. Despite his long days training and coaching, he’s never complained taking his siblings to their fencing practices or when they would stay after to socialize and play games.
“I’ve learned from Lewis that resilience doesn’t mean you are immune to pain,” Francesca Bassa said. “It means that despite the tragedies of life you find the beauty in what’s around you — whether it be the perfect wrist touch, running jokes at 9 a.m. lessons or a particular heated round of Cone Game (for the kids, of course).”
Club: Unattached (President of On Guard High School Fencing League)
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.”
Club: Unattached (Fences at Chaminade High School)
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.”
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