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William “Bill” Reith, Fencing Champion, Armorer and Coach of Olympians, Dies at 76

11/13/2023, 10:00am CST
By Bryan Wendell

Bill Reith, accomplished fencer, talented coach and traveling armorer for Team USA, lost his battle with cancer this month. He was 76.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — William “Bill” Reith, an eminent figure in the world of fencing known for his beaming smile, willingness to help others, and remarkable skill as a competitor, armorer and coach, died this month after a battle with cancer. He was 76.

Reith’s competitive career spanned more than 42 years, amassing victories at every level — Senior Worlds, Veteran Worlds, World Fencing Masters and the Pan American Games.

He served as Team USA armorer at Senior Worlds, the World University Games, the World Junior Championships and the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He also served as an official scorekeeper for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

As a coach, Maestro Reith taught fencing in the Cleveland area for nearly 40 years, including as head coach at Cleveland State University. He coached fencing legends like Olympians Stephen Trevor and Jon Normile, and mentored numerous members of teams for Senior Worlds, Junior and Cadet Worlds and the World University Games. Creating a complete list of the successful fencers he coached would be impossible, but a partial one includes Lindsay Campbell, Andrea Ament, Benjamin Solomon, Wilbur Wheeler, Kevin Hunter, Peter Ciemins and Chris Owen.

Reith was inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame in 1996, the USA Fencing Hall of Fame in 2019 and the Cleveland State University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2023.

Born in 1946, Reith quickly learned to fence and rose through the fencing ranks. At Fenn College (now known as Cleveland State University) in the mid-1960s, Reith claimed the All-Ohio epee title, finished fourth in the Midwest Championships as a junior and amassed a 41-7 record as a senior. He was a two-time NCAA Championships qualifier and posted 110 victories as a collegian.

After college, Reith represented the United States on World Championship teams in 1974, 1975 and 1977. He was a member of the 1975 Pan American Games team that won gold in Mexico City. And his legacy was further solidified when he won the Senior Olympics Epee title, ensuring his status as a champion at all levels of the sport.

Reith's contributions to fencing extended far beyond his personal achievements on the strip. He was named the head coach at Cleveland State in 1995, serving in that role until 2001. During his time at the helm, 11 student-athletes earned appearances at NCAA Championships, while five claimed All-America accolades and countless more developed a lifelong love of the sport.

While he has played a significant role in Cleveland State's fencing history, Reith's achievements and impact on the sport reached even farther.

His dedication to fencing was evident in his long-standing service on the Northern Ohio Division Executive Committee, where he played a crucial role in fostering the sport's growth and organized domestic and international competitions. 

When news of Reith’s passing circulated in the fencing community, memories flooded in.

1984 Olympic epee fencer Peter Schifrin remembers Reith’s “beaming smile.” 

“Bill was honest, tenacious and a gem of a man,” Schifrin wrote.

Two-time Olympian Lee Shelley (1984, 1988) considers Reith a teammate and friend.

“He loved fencing and was a unique individual, full of energy and spirit,” he said.

And Rob Stull, a three-time Olympian in modern pentathlon, called Reith a “special part of the fencing family.”

“He was always willing to help, whatever the task,” Stull wrote. “He helped out at many pentathlon competitions and even gave the sport a try himself, going so far as to purchase his own horse. A great competitor, coach and friend.”

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