Event starts fencing push for varsity reinstatement

By Hanna Lundqvist

The fencing team kicked off its campaign to regain varsity sport status with its first-ever home tournament, featuring a very special participant.

A club sport since their varsity status was revoked in 1996, the Maroons hosted the first annual Don Randel Open on Saturday. The event, headlined by the University president, was designed to raise awareness of the fencing club and bring out fencers new to the team. It was a smashing success, with impressive spectator and participant turnout.

“We knew that there were some good fencers here who either didn’t know about the team or who didn’t want to come to practices, so we wanted to invite everyone to a tournament in the spirit of fencing,” fourth-year epeeist Ben Hiebert said.

“It was awesome to finally get to watch all my friends fence,” said first-year Brette Levitan, a spectator. “It really made me want to learn how, and it would be so cool if fencing was offered as a class.”

The team first proposed an intra-squad tournament in the fall, but they chose to postpone it until spring due conflicts with fall and winter competitions.

The tournament was structured according to official United States Fencing Association (USFA) rules. All three weapons—foil, epee, and sabre—had approximately 12 fencers. The fencers were divided into pools. All of the fencers in each pool fenced each other in short, five-touch bouts to determine rankings. With a bracket then constructed, the participants competed against each other in 15-touch bouts. The winner advanced and the loser was eliminated.

In foil, fourth-year Lindsey Atnip, second-year epeeist Yuefan Weng, and first-year Marcus Westin claimed medals awarded by Randel. In epee, third-year Marvin Lowenthal finished first, epee squad captain Steven Flood finished second, and Hiebert finished third. In sabre, fourth-year Wayne Duan, Lowenthal, and alumnus Dan Lascar finished 1-2-3.

The team’s faculty advisor, Randel, fenced foil as an undergraduate at Princeton and continued to fence as a member of the faculty of Cornell. He did not fence at the tournament, claiming that his best fencing years were behind him. However, he presented the awards, and pledged to consider returning to practices and competing in the team’s next tournament.

“It was great to see Randel out on a Saturday to support the team and the tournament,” Duan said. “Maybe next time we’ll be lucky enough to see him in action.”

The open marked the team’s first visible, on-campus event since losing varsity status after the 1995-1996 season due to, according to the athletic department, budget cuts and the relatively low number of regional teams. Fencing has remained competitive as a club sport since.

“We’re fencing in the toughest conference in the nation. Notre Dame and OSU came in first and second in the nation this year, and we have to fence against their high-profile recruits like [women’s sabre Olympic gold medalist Mariel] Zagunis,” Hiebert said. “We came in eighth place in our conference, as one of the best club teams, and in front of some varsity teams. I’m really proud of that, especially because compared to the other club teams, let alone the varsity teams, we are sadly lacking in support from the university.”

“The team did really well this year—for a club team,” said second-year Lisy Cuming, a team co-captain and organizer of the Randel Open. “We have an enormous amount of talent, and on average are a very young squad. The only way we can really improve from here is by getting sufficient funding and full-time coaching. We are seriously looking into how to reclaim our varsity status.”

Randel offered his support to the team’s cause in his pre-open speech.

The team plans to continue its public-awareness campaign and will recruit heavily from the student body for the remainder of this quarter and at the beginning of next year.

“Fencing at the University of Chicago is as old as the University itself, and it is fantastic that we held the tournament to help revive this deep-seated campus tradition,” Duan said.