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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, July 4, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesSWORDPLAY IS SERIOUS AT ST. JOHN FENCING CLUB

SWORDPLAY IS SERIOUS AT ST. JOHN FENCING CLUB

The Pine Peace School "Great Room" is anything but peaceful on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. Shouts of "Attack!" "Retreat!" and some harder-to-understand commands ring out as youths and adults in white jackets and metal masks have at each other with swords.
It's the St. John Fencing Club at practice.
Formally organized just a year ago, the club has 13 members — six young people and six adults plus honorary member Anthony "Tony" Gillham.
Gillham, a retired University of Wisconsin NCAA fencing team coach, is a member of the International Academy of Armes and helped to set up the U.S. Fencing Association's National Coaches College. More important to the St. John Fencing Club, he and his wife, who still live in Wisconsin, spend time on St. John each winter, living aboard the 31-foot cutter-rigged sailboat that they keep in the British Virgin Islands during the remainder of the year.
A year ago, Gillham met Mark Hansen, the president, coach and prime mover behind the St. John fencing group, who immediately recruited him as a volunteer.
The British-born Gillham works with the fencers one-on-one and judges their bouts, quietly offering pointers and more audibly proffering praise. "Tony has been invaluable to the development of our fencers and to the organization," Hansen says. "He provides an incredible opportunity for everybody to benefit from his experience, his love of fencing and his love of coaching. It's like having Wynton Marsalis sit in with Rich Greengold because he likes hanging out with the musicians."
Hansen is benefiting immensely, himself, from the arrangement. He took up fencing just two and a half years ago, learning the basics from his friend and then-St. John resident Chris Jones, a former NCAA champion fencer at the University of Pennsylvania who taught a fencing class at the St. John School of the Arts. Jones, who fenced with the St. Thomas-based Blades Fencing Club, was the highest scoring Virgin Islands fencer at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Venezuela in 1998, but shortly after that he moved to the mainland.
Hansen and the other three adult fencers who founded the St. John club last year were also active in the Blades before spinning off their own organization, and they still have a close relationship with the St. Thomas group. Several youth members of the Blades have been traveling to St. John on recent Saturdays to take advantage of the opportunity to train under Gillham.
When the Blades hosted the first V.I. Friendship Tournament last April, attracting the familiar fencers from St. John and some they had never met before from St. Croix, Gillham served as chief officiant.
The reasons for forming the St. John club, Hansen says, were to bring experienced fencers in the area together and to develop new talent. "We need somebody to fence," he says. "Fencing thrives on competition. Any serious fencer needs and wants to compete. The club is an opportunity to practice. We're having fun, yes, and we're teaching our youth about discipline and physical fitness, but basically we're training fencers for competition."
One student pool he was able to draw upon are those St. John youngsters in home schooling. "The parents were looking for physical education opportunities for their children," he says. Six of the kids began fencing last September; four are still with the program. Two of them, Ben Gibbud, 12, and Jessica LaChance, 13, recalled at a recent session that their first impressions of fencing were the same: "bor-ing." Four months later, Ben has upgraded his opinion to "okay" and Jessica allows as how it's "a little bit better."
Such blasé pronouncements notwithstanding, the youngsters as a whole show great promise, Hansen says, developing not only physical skills, but concentration, motivation and commitment. If they stay with it, he thinks several of them could be ready for the USFA North American Cup Youth Competition in 2001.
Meantime, he's looking forward to the second V.I Friendship Tournament and the third annual Blades Summer Fencing Camp this year — and hoping to set up some competitions with youngsters in Puerto Rico.
Fencing, Hansen points out, is a very safe sport. Swords have blunt tips and fencers wear regulation protective gear. Dues in the St. John Fencing Club are $25 per year. There is no additional fee for lessons or workouts. The club welcomes beginners of all ages as well as those with experience. To learn more, call Hansen at 779-4550 or contact him by e-mail to innisfree@islands.vi.

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The Pine Peace School "Great Room" is anything but peaceful on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. Shouts of "Attack!" "Retreat!" and some harder-to-understand commands ring out as youths and adults in white jackets and metal masks have at each other with swords.
It's the St. John Fencing Club at practice.
Formally organized just a year ago, the club has 13 members -- six young people and six adults plus honorary member Anthony "Tony" Gillham.
Gillham, a retired University of Wisconsin NCAA fencing team coach, is a member of the International Academy of Armes and helped to set up the U.S. Fencing Association's National Coaches College. More important to the St. John Fencing Club, he and his wife, who still live in Wisconsin, spend time on St. John each winter, living aboard the 31-foot cutter-rigged sailboat that they keep in the British Virgin Islands during the remainder of the year.
A year ago, Gillham met Mark Hansen, the president, coach and prime mover behind the St. John fencing group, who immediately recruited him as a volunteer.
The British-born Gillham works with the fencers one-on-one and judges their bouts, quietly offering pointers and more audibly proffering praise. "Tony has been invaluable to the development of our fencers and to the organization," Hansen says. "He provides an incredible opportunity for everybody to benefit from his experience, his love of fencing and his love of coaching. It's like having Wynton Marsalis sit in with Rich Greengold because he likes hanging out with the musicians."
Hansen is benefiting immensely, himself, from the arrangement. He took up fencing just two and a half years ago, learning the basics from his friend and then-St. John resident Chris Jones, a former NCAA champion fencer at the University of Pennsylvania who taught a fencing class at the St. John School of the Arts. Jones, who fenced with the St. Thomas-based Blades Fencing Club, was the highest scoring Virgin Islands fencer at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Venezuela in 1998, but shortly after that he moved to the mainland.
Hansen and the other three adult fencers who founded the St. John club last year were also active in the Blades before spinning off their own organization, and they still have a close relationship with the St. Thomas group. Several youth members of the Blades have been traveling to St. John on recent Saturdays to take advantage of the opportunity to train under Gillham.
When the Blades hosted the first V.I. Friendship Tournament last April, attracting the familiar fencers from St. John and some they had never met before from St. Croix, Gillham served as chief officiant.
The reasons for forming the St. John club, Hansen says, were to bring experienced fencers in the area together and to develop new talent. "We need somebody to fence," he says. "Fencing thrives on competition. Any serious fencer needs and wants to compete. The club is an opportunity to practice. We're having fun, yes, and we're teaching our youth about discipline and physical fitness, but basically we're training fencers for competition."
One student pool he was able to draw upon are those St. John youngsters in home schooling. "The parents were looking for physical education opportunities for their children," he says. Six of the kids began fencing last September; four are still with the program. Two of them, Ben Gibbud, 12, and Jessica LaChance, 13, recalled at a recent session that their first impressions of fencing were the same: "bor-ing." Four months later, Ben has upgraded his opinion to "okay" and Jessica allows as how it's "a little bit better."
Such blasé pronouncements notwithstanding, the youngsters as a whole show great promise, Hansen says, developing not only physical skills, but concentration, motivation and commitment. If they stay with it, he thinks several of them could be ready for the USFA North American Cup Youth Competition in 2001.
Meantime, he's looking forward to the second V.I Friendship Tournament and the third annual Blades Summer Fencing Camp this year -- and hoping to set up some competitions with youngsters in Puerto Rico.
Fencing, Hansen points out, is a very safe sport. Swords have blunt tips and fencers wear regulation protective gear. Dues in the St. John Fencing Club are $25 per year. There is no additional fee for lessons or workouts. The club welcomes beginners of all ages as well as those with experience. To learn more, call Hansen at 779-4550 or contact him by e-mail to innisfree@islands.vi.