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Celebrating Impactful Female Fencers on National Girls and Women in Sports Day

02/07/2018, 11:30am CST
By Kristen Henneman

(Colorado Springs, Colo.) – Today is the 32nd anniversary of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, which celebrates the athletic accomplishments of women as well as the positive influence sports have on their lives.

National Girls and Women in Sports Day honors how far women have come in the sports landscape, encourages female participation in athletics and recognizes the continued fight for equality to give future generation better opportunities.

To celebrate this day, USA Fencing is pleased to feature some of the amazing female members of the fencing community from across the country – from high school students to veterans and Olympians to coaches – who have not only inspired a love for fencing in others, but have accomplished incredible feats in the sport of fencing.

Kelley and Courtney Hurley

Courtney Hurley (left) and Kelley Hurley (right)

As sisters, Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) and Courtney Hurley (San Antonio, Texas) have made fencing a team sport, caring about each other’s success as much as their own. Pushing each other to be better while supporting each other no matter what and always rooting each other on, the Hurleys bond has been a monumental piece of their love for fencing.

“[Fencing is] a very individual sport, but I don’t think that we do it individually,” Courtney Hurley said. “When she does well, it’s like I’m doing well or I’m doing well, it’s like she’s doing well I think. I feel like that’s how we’ve been able to survive. We’ve been able to help each other.”

Both competitive, there was sibling rivalry in the sisters’ teenage years as Kelley didn’t want to lose to her younger sister and Courtney wanted to avoid being known only as Kelley’s little sister. After Courtney joined Kelley at Notre Dame to fence in college, the sisters became a team again.

“Notre Dame sort of taught us how to be on each other’s side again and compete for the same goal,” Kelley Hurley said. “And after college, we realized that if your sister’s not on your side, who will be?”

Now, Kelley and Courtney are inseparable, and the Hurleys have been dominant in women’s epee in the United States. Since 2004, the sisters have combined to win 10 of the last 14 Division I National Championships. They also have competed on 10 Senior World Championship Teams together and won team bronze at the London Games.

“Having Courtney there all these years, I’ve had that support with me, someone who truly wants me to do my best and who is always there by my side to cheer me on and coach me through things,” Kelley Hurley said. “And to always have somebody like that that wants to be there for me, I think it’s the biggest reason why Courtney and I have kept fencing for as long as we have.”

Dede Deane

Dede Deane

Picking up fencing in her sixties, Dede Deane (Richmond, Va.) continues to prove it’s never too late to learn a new sport. With six years of experience, Deane has a strong work ethic, driven to improve and pushing her Maitre d'Armes at Salle Green, Walter Green (Glen Allen, Va.), to continue to learn and better his own knowledge of the sport. Her hard work has paid off, earning a bronze medal last year at the Pan American Veteran Championships.

More importantly for Green, Deane is a leader at the club. She serves as the treasurer and financial manager of the Nathaniel Ewell Fencing Development Program, a non-profit which supports fencers with a lending library, three-weapon tournament and financial support for training. She also is more than willing to speak to other women about her love for fencing and fencing at the veteran level. She is the individual other women look to in the club for advice, support and inspiration both on and off the strip.

“She is enthusiastic about fencing,” Green said. “She communicates that enthusiasm and fencing tends to be a male-dominated sport … and having a senior woman there, who is obviously working very hard, obviously loves what she does and who is approachable and who approaches them – she actively reaches out to new women and tells them why we do what we do, helps them with the social integration into the program, those types of things – she’s a den mother. My program would not have the success that it has with female fencers if it wasn’t for her.”

Lisa Campi-Sapery

Lisa Campi-Sapery at the Freshman-Sophomore Tournament

Lisa Campi-Sapery (Montville, N.J.) is extremely dedicated to fencing, helping develop the sport at all levels. A former Division I fencer at the University of North Carolina, Campi-Sapery is now a referee, bout committee member, owner of Forte Fencing Club and a coach at both the club and Morris Hill High School.

At Morris Hills High School, Campi-Sapery has not only had an incredible impact on the program, but also the students. Under her tutelage, the team has acquired numerous accolades, including 2014 and 2015 Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Champions. The team has continued to grow in size and offers fencing to young adults who may not have been exposed or have had the opportunity otherwise. While she brings the best out of her fencers, working with their strengths and weaknesses, it’s the impact on the students’ personal growth that athletes such as Willamina Groething (Hackettstown, N.J.) appreciate most.

Coach Lisa builds confidence and character in her fencers as well as technique; she recognizes that a successful team is not built solely on the accomplishments of a few star students, but on a team culture of respect, integrity and commitment to doing your best on and off the strip,” said Groething, who was a sophomore when Campi-Sapery took over the program in 2010. “Lisa has built an increasingly successful fencing team the last eight years, and more than that, she has built an enduring community of positive, confident leaders prepared to make a difference in the world around them whether or not they continue fencing in college.”

Delia Turner

Delia Turner (second from the left) with her team at last year's Vet Worlds

Delia Turner (second from the left) with her team at last year's Vet Worlds

A 12-time Veteran World Championship Team member with 10 individual medals, Delia Turner (Philadelphia, Pa.) is one of Team USA’s most decorated veteran fencers. Consistent in competition, Turner is a smart competitor who has respect for all: fencers, referees and officials.

Turner has been an advocate for veteran fencing and is always willing to share knowledge of the sport with others. For Lydia Fabry (Simi Valley, Calif.), a four-time individual medalist in saber at Vet Worlds, Turner was her first role model as a veteran woman fencer, taking the time to talk with Fabry and teach her as she was new to fencing. Turner specifically taught Fabry one important lesson in fencing: when the mask goes on, it’s time to fence, be fierce and set the emotions aside while when the mask is off, then you can be a nice person.

She’s a teacher as a profession, but she is a teacher as a fencer as well,” Fabry said. “She wants everyone to do well, including herself. She is like that and she’s invested her time and efforts. I’ve seen in over the years, being a participant at the veteran levels and promoting this sport in all kinds of ways. She just has a very nice, positive attitude about everything, but when she’s on the strip, she’s a fighter.” 

Ashley Lo

Ashley Lo

Ashley Lo

Despite being just 16 years old, Ashley Lo (Franklin Lakes, N.J.) has been a role model to her teammates at Indian Hills High School in New Jersey. A prominent member on the team, Lo started fencing five years ago and used hard work to become the New Jersey High School Foil State Champion and place seventh at last year’s Cadet Pan American Championships.

Although Lo is more reserved, and never wants to take too much credit for her success, she is always willing to help her teammates. They even have an ongoing joke and saying on the team, asking, “What would Ashley do?” as she is a quick thinker and a good strategist on the strip.

“She’s very humble and she never wants to say ‘yeah I’m good,’” teammate and friend Julianna Benducci (Oakland, N.J.) said. “But we always say she’s the queen of the team because she’s always there and she’s a big person on the team. We always look up to her because she’s always like, ‘you have to put in the work you want to get out …’ She makes us realize that. You have to put the work in to get the work out.”

Sandra Marchant

Sandra Marchant (right)

Sandra Marchant (right)

The best coaches are often those that are there for support no matter what, and Sandra Marchant (Prospect, Conn.) has been just that for Molly Hill (Rochester, N.Y.) Marchant, who coaches Hill when she’s home from college at Rochester Institute of Technology, is supportive both on and off the strip. No matter the distance, Marchant has always been there, and even used to take the train to New York to give Hill lessons when she was doing an internship in Manhattan. She’s always available for a phone call to help Hill re-focus or give coaching tips no matter where Hill is competing.

In addition, Marchant started her own club, Prospect Fencing Club, so as the president of the RIT club fencing team, Hill made sure to create a supportive environment like her coach. Hill also helps coach and last fall, RIT had a full women’s team competing for the first time.

“She’s always there for me for a phone call or a text, whether about my personal life or if I’m at a tournament doing well or doing poorly,” Hill said. “To have a female role model the past couple years has been amazing and made me want to pass it on.”

Catherine Humphrey-Bennett

Catherine Humphrey-Bennett (right)

The captain of the Temple women’s fencing team in 1988 and one of the top 15 fencers in the nation upon graduation, Catherine Humphrey-Bennett (Philadelphia, Pa.) gave back to the sport and her community when she founded the Mt. Airy Fencers Club in 2006. Coaching children and teens in Philadelphia, Catherine started MAFC to promote youth fencing and has proved a mentor to her students.

She passes on to her students her passion for fencing as well as important qualities such as teamwork and being a good student. In addition, Humphrey-Bennett cares so much about her students that she has donated money towards equipment and uniforms, allowing children of all backgrounds the opportunity to fence.

“She not only serves as a role model for our kids, but also for the community because she involves the parents. So when we have lessons for instance, the parents are invited to be a part of that lesson and the parents are invited to invite other kids. It becomes like a family,” said Darla Pender-Brennan (Philadelphia, Pa.), whose son fenced for Humphrey-Bennett for seven years. “It’s not just her trying to make sure that kids are wanting the sport of fencing, but they’re learning teamwork. She’s very motherly towards these kids. They just love her.”

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