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USA Fencing Selects First Quarter Spirit of Sport Recipients

12/01/2020, 9:45am CST
By Kristen Henneman

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – USA Fencing is pleased to announce the 2020-21 season’s first group of recipients for the Spirit of Sport Recognition Program, recognizing six members of the fencing community who have exemplified outstanding dedication to the sport and are an inspiration to others.

New for the 2020-21 season, each quarter, one recipient from each region is chosen based on the USA Fencing core values of excellence, respect, teamwork, inclusion and passion.

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

  • Cheryl Maslen (Lake Oswego, Ore.)
  • Anthony Kosla (Plymouth, Mich.)
  • Matthew Zich (Boston, Mass.)
  • Richard Lee (Los Angeles, Calif.)
  • Srija Atluri (Irving, Texas)
  • Christopher Bernard (Waxhaw, N.C.)

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

In addition, for the third straight season, USA Fencing will honor one annual Spirit of Sport winner. After the fourth quarter winners have been announced, 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.

The overall winner will receive a trophy and will be honored at this year’s National Championships and July Challenge in Philadelphia, Pa.

Nominations for the second quarter are due December 1. The nomination form can be found here.

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

Region 1: Cheryl Maslen (Lake Oswego, Ore.)

Cheryl Maslen

Club: PDX Fencing
Age: 66
Weapon: Saber
Number of Years Involved with Fencing: 12
Nominated By: Claire Randall (club administrator)

Only the second female veteran fencer at PDX Fencing when she started, Cheryl Maslen’s impact can be seen by the number of people she’s inspired to try fencing. Committed to improving since day one, she is always up for extra practice and now leads the women’s veteran team. Maslen is willing to help anyone with drills and is encouraging of all around her, regardless of their age or skill level. Her sportsmanship is exceptional and she is a mentor to the younger fencers on the strip and off, offering to give assistance in applying for internships at Oregon Health Science University Medical School, where she works.

“Cheryl is a wonderful role model in every aspect,” Claire Randall said. “She is the embodiment of the Spirit of [Sport] Award.”

Region 2: Anthony Kosla (Northville, Mich.)

Anthony Kosla

Club: Ann Arbor Fencing Club
Age: 35
Weapon: Foil
Number of Years Involved with Fencing: 17
Nominated By: The Banner-Hubbard Family on behalf of 26 families

Coach Tony Kosla is considered a hero by many of his students’ families for his work during the pandemic and his efforts to keep them fencing. When the pandemic hit, Kosla quickly adjusted, offering Zoom classes that not only taught fencing technique, but got his students moving while providing a fun opportunity to interact with others. He also kept the classes fun, creating a weekly joke contest with the winner getting to pick the next week’s conditioning exercise, and brought in guest instructors and speakers. When the weather warmed up, he began to offer outdoor lessons at a park, lending equipment to students who didn’t have any. He continued to be creative with the exercises while ensuring proper social distancing and emphasizing teamwork, respect and problem solving. Once in-person classes became available, Kosla continued the Zoom classes to make sure everyone could participate. His passion is infectious and he takes the time to get to know his students on an individual level, remembering things such as birthdays and keeping each student’s goals in mind.

A sampling of positive comments from families include:

“Coach Tony is wonderful.”

“He is an amazing coach!”

“He goes above and beyond for these kids.”

“We are very new, but Tony has made it so friendly and easy for my kids to join and learn.”

“Coach Tony has a very significant commitment to excellence in his teaching.”

“Tony is wonderful and has gotten [our son] hooked.”

Region 3: Matthew Zich (Newton, Mass.)

Matthew Zich (left)

Club: Boston Fencing Club
Age: 34
Weapon: Saber
Number of Years Involved with Fencing: 20+
Nominated By: Maggie Shealy (student)

An assistant coach at Brandeis University, Matt Zich makes changing coaches, and moving from club to college, an easy transition. Warm and welcoming from the beginning, he does everything he can to make his fencers better, and his impact is evident in both their results and skill levels. He gives the team confidence in their abilities and as a fencer himself, can relate to what his fencers are going through. He cares about each fencer and while winning is important, Zich most values a great work ethic, looking for effort and applying what is taught. He takes the time necessary with each fencer, despite also being a coach at Boston Fencing Club and spending all day coaching.

“I am thankful for his coaching, and I admire his dedication and commitment to our team and this sport,” Maggie Shealy said.

Region 4: Richard Lee (Los Angeles, Calif.)

Richard Lee (right)

Club: Beverly Hills Fencers’ Club
Age: 56
Weapon: Épée
Number of Years Involved with Fencing: Four
Nominated By: Karen Lieu (serves with Lee on the Southern California Division Board)

Richard Lee has volunteered to help the sport of fencing whenever he can. As a fencing parent, he has shared his knowledge with other parents of new fencers. When he decided to fence himself, Lee – who is left-handed – decided to become an épée fencer to give others more experience fencing a lefty. An inspiration to other parents to join, he encourages all fencers, whether at practice or at tournaments. Lee also worked to organize several sanctioned tournaments to give his teammates more experience with the proceeds going toward air conditioning units for the club. When the Southern California Scholastic Fencing League needed referees, he became one himself and rather than being paid, he asked that the money be allocated for referee training, creating the Richard Lee Scholarship Fund. Lee is also a board member for the Southern California Division, helping organize and referee in tournaments.

“In my 28 years of fencing, I have never met such an excellent member of the fencing community,” Karen Lieu said. “Mr. Lee has donated countless hours to support the sport of fencing.”

Region 5: Srija Atluri (Irving, Texas)

Srija Atluri

Club: Fencing Institute of Texas
Age: 16
Weapon: Foil
Number of Years Involved with Fencing: Six
Nominated By: Uma Atluri (parent)

Known for her commitment and discipline, Srija Atluri is dedicated to improving and is enjoying her fencing journey, knowing it’s not just about the end result. At her club, Atluri ensures that she fences everyone, knowing that she can learns something from every bout, no matter the opponent’s age or skill level. She also wants to spread her love for the sport, spending many of her Saturdays helping the younger fencers better their skills. She has helped her teammates reach their goals and find success while always being respectful of her coaches, the referees and bout committee at tournaments. Off the strip, Atluri is also highly involved in her community as well as in school.

“Srija has devoted a lot of her time to volunteering with the red cross and has recently been awarded with a promotion to a blood donor ambassador. She also volunteers at the Perot Museum shaping the minds of youth interested in STEM,” Uma Atluri said. “At school, she is an active participant in numerous organizations at school involving leadership and community outreach.”

Region 6: Christopher Bernard (Waxhaw, N.C.)

Christopher Bernard

Club: Triple Threat Fencing Academy
Age: 49
Weapons: Épée and saber
Number of Years Involved with Fencing: Six as a parent, 1.5 as a fencer and coach
Nominated By: Mary Pal (parent of a fencer at Triple Threat Fencing Academy)

When a fencing club in North Carolina closed with no notice in 2019, leaving its fencers without a club or coach, fencing parent Christopher Bernard stepped in, founding Triple Threat Fencing Academy and giving fencers a home once again. Taking over the club’s old facilities, Bernard worked to renovate the space, opening just six weeks after the old club closed. The result was a welcoming environment full of integrity and teamwork. Bernard is now a coach in addition to being a partner at a law firm, and since its opening, enrollment has grown significantly, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Adjusting to the pandemic, Bernard has brought in guest coaches to help the athletes and kept positive and passionate for fencing.

“It’s been a true gift to see our fencers thrive in a new environment that fosters teamwork and respect,” Mary Pal said. “Chris Bernard’s commitment to fencing and to our community has kept fencing alive in our area.”

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