COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Local clubs are the heartbeat of fencing — a place where creativity, care and community engagement shine. At USA Fencing, one way we recognize these wonderful clubs is through the Club of Excellence Program.
The 2021-22 honorees include a club in Northern California that organized a Stand with Ukraine fencing tournament to raise funds for those affected by the conflict, a club in Georgia whose monthly “Friday Night Fights” tournaments encourage friendly competition all season long, and a club in New York that uses Facebook and Instagram to showcase its diverse membership and coaching staff.
These three clubs were among the five selected as Clubs of Excellence, meaning they receive a Club of Excellence banner, 30% off their club renewal fee and recognition on the USA Fencing website (in this story!).
The USA Fencing Club of Excellence Program began in 2015 as a way to honor the outstanding work being done at the grassroots level to grow and sustain fencing. The program is an acknowledgment that every successful fencing journey begins when a fencer opens the door to their local club for the first time.
The 2021-22 Club of Excellence honorees are:
Owners: Irina and Igor Chirashnya
From marching in holiday parades to hosting camps with the YMCA to partnering with the local parks department to bring fencing to underserved areas, the Academy of Fencing Masters is a vital part of its Bay Area community.
Over the past six months, the Academy of Fencing Masters has partnered with local families to support those affected by the war in Ukraine. As part of a community full of immigrants and first-generation U.S. families, this particular cause is one that’s near to everyone in the community.
Since February, AFM has taken donations for both local Ukrainian families as well as accepting supplies to send back to the country itself. Local donations included food, clothing and supplies to help newly housed refugee families in their area.
AFM welcomed several Ukrainian refugee kids and provided them with full fencing fear and a full scholarship to learn fencing. These students were welcomed into the community, which also donated items to help them resettle in the Bay Area.
In May, AFM organized and hosted the Stand with Ukraine fencing tournament to raise funds for those most affected by the conflict. Fencing families donated sale items, volunteered and collected money for direct aid. AFM families made homemade food, created bracelets and even make homemade pins to sell at the tournament.
This huge community effort brought fencing families together for something they are passionate about, especially since many of the people in the community have ties to Ukraine.
This tournament is a fantastic example of the strong community at AFM. It was organized and promoted by coaches and fencing families, who were passionate about using fencing to help however they could.
Owner: Kevin Mar
At Kaizen Academy, everyone belongs. That’s the message heard loud and clear by the 185 members (and growing) who belong to Kaizen.
This sense of welcome spans the little things — like board games in the lobby so kids can interact with one another whether they are students or siblings who are waiting — to the big, like a front office staff that speaks five languages, so families feel comfortable talking in their native language. To date, families who are members of the academy speak a combined 28 languages.
One example of this outreach is to the local Chinese community, which Kaizen tries to reach through social media. The social campaign is run by a fencing student and mom who are native speakers, and they send out regular social media outreach in Mandarin. This ensures that prospective fencing families can learn about fencing in the manner that is most comfortable to them.
Making everyone feel like a part of Kaizen starts with hiring the right staff. Kaizen has hired coaches and staff that come from a variety of diverse demographics — spanning a range of areas, including race, religion, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation.
To reach more women, Kaizen even started a “fencing moms class” taught by a fencing coach who is herself a mom.
“It is about creating social bonds with the women and the staff,” says club owner Kevin Mar.
It seems to be working. In a club with 185 members, nearly 60% of Kaizen students identify as a minority.
New York, N.Y.
Owner: Tim Morehouse
On social media and its official website, the Tim Morehouse Fencing Club ensures that every fencer gets a chance to shine.
“Every fencer is special and reaches milestones,” Tim Morehouse says. “For one fencer, summoning the gumption to compete at a regional event for the first time is on par with another fencer attempting to win a national title. All should be recognized, which is what we aim to do through our media.”
This includes email newsletters sent weekly during the season on Wednesdays and daily during Summer Nationals. Every person who competes receives recognition with milestones noted on the club’s blog.
“We know that these things engage our members because they tell us so, online and in person,” Morehouse says. “They have even learned to contribute their own candid pictures.”
One club staff member is responsible for the blog content and the team that manages the website and email newsletters. They also rely on Facebook and Instagram to feature a wide variety of members — including veterans, beginners, Olympians and kids taking their first lessons.
The club opts not to spend any money on specific marketing campaigns. Instead, it relies on search engine optimization and word of mouth.
“We share videos and content with parents on a regular basis, and our families often end up sharing that content in their social groups, which leads to their friends learning about us and wanting to try fencing,” Morehouse says. “There is zero cost to sharing content with our parents, and our families appreciate being able to see their kids learning the sport.”
Owner: Kathy Vail
With a caring and knowledgeable coaching staff, an atmosphere that emphasizes attention to detail, and programming that appeals to both high-performance athletes and recreational fencers, everyone at Dunwoody Fencing Club feels like a part of the team.
Dunwoody is one of the oldest continuously operating USA Fencing clubs in the Georgia Division, building past champions on the local, regional and national levels.
Most importantly, members find a sport in which they can participate for a lifetime.
To get those lifelong fencers started, Dunwoody recruits through its summer fencing camps and clinics and with one-day "Try Fencing!" programs held year-round. The club also offers fencing programs at libraries and community centers in its community and in surrounding areas. Dunwoody also has an active presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
The club also fosters a family-centered atmosphere that encourages parents and grandparents to actively support the whole club by serving as bout committee members, armorers and sharing their time and talents however they can.
Dunwoody also encourages collegiate fencers to return to the club during the summer break by offering discounted rates to do so. The club hosts a monthly in-house "Friday Night Fights" tournaments, and points standings from each tournament are totaled at the end of the season with prizes awarded at the annual End-Of-Season Cookout.
Fencers at Dunwoody build community through the "A to Z challenge” — a collection of outside-the-club group activities like archery, bowling, curling, disc golf and more.
“DFC is a highly competitive epee club that also welcomes recreational fencers,” owner Kathy Vail says. “This is the first item that appears on our website and on our promotional materials. It’s a concise statement of who we are as a club. DFC is successful in membership because we give our students all the tools that they need to develop as fencers, then allow them to use those tools to develop the individual strategy that best suits them.”
Owner: Zhimin Zhang
At the Orange County Fencing Center, the key to an enjoyable and valuable experience is a strong work-play duality.
“We work hard to create both a competitive and fun atmosphere for our fencers to grow in their sports and enrich their lives,” says owner Zhimin Zhang.
Thanks to an environment of continuous improvement, OCFC fields a strong team of competitive fencers. But OCFC also is a community where fencers have fun and develop lasting friendships. The OCFC staff accomplishes this by reinvesting income from fees to host extra activities, update the club infrastructure and equipment, and welcome visiting international fencers for cultural exchange.
“Young fencers enjoy being OCFC members because we provide an environment where fencers can both excel at the sport and make lasting friendships,” Zhang says.
OCFC offers a range of classes for fencers as they age and their skills grow. To ease transitions between different programs, the club also offers mixed schedules, where fencers could take classes from two transitioning programs to first familiarize themselves with a different program before switching.
“Our goal with the programs is to offer fencers the type of training they need at different times during their sport,” Zhang says. “Whether it’s the game-based beginner class to nurture interest in the sport, the thoroughly coached Intermediate class to ensure correct forms, or the sparring-based Advance class that gives the fencers the freedom they need, they all serve to provide the best learning experiences for our fencers.”
But, once again, fun always remains part of the equation.
“While OCFC’s primary purpose is to cultivate excellent fencing, we ensure more recreational fencers are also having fun through our many events and celebrations,” Zhang says. “OCFC celebrates everything from birthdays to nationally recognized holidays and hosts activities for our fencers to bond and develop friendships.”