The University of Notre Dame recruits students to play with swords. Inconceivable? Au contraire, the Fighting Irish fencing team is truly something special.
Notre Dame’s tradition of excellence in fencing is especially noteworthy in the wake of the London Olympic Games. Four of the eight Domers on Team USA competed in fencing. One of those four, Mariel Zagunis, was also honored as the US Olympic flag-bearer during the Opening Ceremony.
Ariel DeSmet, a sophomore resident of Dillon Hall and the 2011 NCAA foil champion, claims, “Fencing is what brought me here… much love to my coach. Without him, I might not have even attended college.”
DeSmet further elaborated on his experience of the Notre Dame team, “Competing on the collegiate circuit is more of a team-oriented sport, whereas national and international competitions are more individual. Here you are reliant on your teammates to do well against other schools.” The fact that fencing requires both team and individual effort is evidence that it is as much a sport as football or basketball.
One of DeSmet’s teammates, Niki McKee of Welsh Family Hall, has fenced since the tender age of 8. Before college, she participated in the kinds of tournaments that DeSmet alluded to in the preceding paragraph. McKee generously took the time to share her thoughts on her career at Notre Dame with The Rover.
Self: What your favorite aspect of fencing?
McKee: Traveling, of course, and how I don’t have to rely on anybody else. It is definitely an individual game.
Do you ever encounter skepticism about the status of fencing as a sport?
All the time! It’s more of a mental game, but you have to be very quick on your feet.
Was ND very proactive about recruiting new team members this year?
I was recruited and in my experience they are very team-oriented and interactive.
When is the official fencing season?
I think collegiate tournaments run from October through March, so it is technically a winter sport but we train all year round.
Finally, what is your opinion thus far of the campus atmosphere toward the fencing team?
In my hometown no one knew about fencing, but here everybody respects it because we’ve won multiple NCAA championships.
Kevin Hassett, a junior and resident of O’Neill Hall, also shared advice for those who might have younger siblings or friends interested in fencing, “You should get started early (preferably before high school). Also, if you’re really motivated to get good at fencing you shouldn’t play any other sport. The fencing season is year-round and it’s necessary to continually work on your skills in order to be competitive.”
According to the US Olympic Committee, fencing is one of the few sports included in every modern Olympic Games since 1896 that was also present at the original competition in Greece in the 8th century BC. If you remain dubious of the widespread popularity of a sport that you have only seen on the silver screen, it might interest you that Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden, Neil Diamond, comedian Jerry O’Connell, and General George Patton were all enthusiastic patrons of fencing.
Although the fencing team might not have achieved the renown of the Notre Dame football team, it is hard to argue with the tradition of the (Sword) Fighting Irish.
Becca Self is happy to be in the First Year of Studies as it gives her an excuse to avoid the word ‘undecided.’ She is enthusiastically seeking fellow rain-dancers, because in her Southwestern hometown, rain is magical. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.