April 24, 2002 – The Virgin Islands will be represented this weekend at the only annual competition of the U.S. Fencing Association that is open to the territory's young people.
Carly Kauffman of the St. John Fencing Club will compete in epee in the girls' 14-and-under category at the North American Cup for Youth tournament, being held this year in Louisville, Kentucky.
"The NAC is the only competition that the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are entitled to participate in within the U.S.F.A.," Carly's coach, Mark Hansen, said. More than a thousand fencers no older than 14 will take part in the event, which is being held at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville. Boys and girls compete separately in the three weapons of the sport of fencing — foil, epee and saber.
Only twice before have V.I. fencers competed in the mainland event. In 1998, four members of The Blades Fencing Club on St. Thomas traveled to Plano, Texas, and in 2000 one from The Blades and one from the St. John Club went to Orlando, Florida.
The St. John club was formed by Hansen and other St. John fencers three years ago as a spinoff of The Blades. At present, it is the only active club in the territory.
Carly, a 12-year-old seventh grader who has lived on St. John all her life, got her first taste of fencing in July of 2000, when she attended a weeklong fencing camp held by The Blades and the St. John club at Maho Bay Camps. She learned about it from a friend who also attended the camp. Her conclusion at the week's end: "I thought it was really neat. I said, oh, I'd like to go to the Olympics."
When the St. John club resumed classes that fall, Carly was there, and she soon advanced to the adult class. "She is a most devoted student," Hansen said, "and she hasn't missed a practice since she started." Like most fencers, she initially used the light-weight, flexible foil. But for the last year she has been fencing epee. Each weapon has its own rules of competition. She says she likes epee "because the whole body is the target and it's quicker."
Carly sees a similarity between fencing and chess, which she plays. "I like the way the moves are, and the speed," she said. "It's a great sport, really fun. It's good for your arm and body strength, and it's good for your mind. You have to concentrate; you have to commit to it and work at it."
The 5-foot-4 right-handed fencer also studies modern dance at the St. John School of the Arts and was formerly involved in the Kids and the Sea sailing program in Coral Bay. "I warm up for fencing by doing some basketball with Dad," she said.
Carly's parents, Suzy and Adin Kauffman, are going to Louisville on Thursday along with their daughter and Hansen. After the competition, they'll take a brief family vacation visiting her grandparents in Kansas.
Although she has never fenced anywhere but on St. John, Carly is undaunted by the prospect of competing in a huge venue where dozens of bouts are going on simultaneously. When her event comes up on Saturday, "I'm just going to go with the flow," she said. "Mark went on the Internet to see those who'll be competing in my category that have top standing. I don't know them by face, but I know them by their last names."
The V.I. Olympic Committee provided a stipend toward expenses, Hansen said, and the club has been soliciting community support to help cover the remainder of the costs.
Hansen and fellow Blades alumnus H. Drumheller are the instructors for the St. John club's beginner and adult classes, held at Pine Peace School. "We do a 10-week series of beginner classes three times a year," Hansen said, "and from those classes usually one or two students decide to stay with it and advance to the adult class." The next classes will begin in September. The $25 registration fee includes the use of fencing gear and the club's electric scoring equipment.
On St. Thomas, although The Blades club is inactive, fencing classes are once again being offered in the physical education program at the University of the Virgin Islands. Experienced fencers on the two islands stay in touch and get together from time to time, according to Hansen, acting secretary-treasurer of the V.I. Fencing Federation, which is undergoing reorganization after years of inactivity.
"We had a fencing exposition at Pine Peace last Thursday evening that was very well attended, with about a dozen fencers competing on two strips," he said. Eric Pattison, who teaches the UVI course, brought a couple of his students, and Leonard Bonelli, the V.I. Olympic Committee fencing liaison, was on hand to observe, along with parents and prospective fencers.
"Anybody who has an interest in the sport, at whatever age, is welcome to join the St. John Fencing Club," Hansen said. Weekly practice is Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. "Those coming from St. Thomas can be picked up on the 5 o'clock ferry from Red Hook and dropped off to catch the 8 p.m. boat back," he said. To learn more, contact Hansen by e-mail at Mark Hansen Design

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