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Swordplay Gaining in Popularity


En garde!

A fledgling high school fencing league, including Chaminade, Harvard-Westlake and Villanova Prep, will begin swordplay next week and culminate with the crowning of team and individual champions in January and February.

The Southern California High School Fencing League, sanctioned by the Southern California Division of the U.S. Fencing Assn., also includes Bellflower, Norwalk and Victor Valley highs. The first of three individual tournaments is scheduled for Sept. 24 at 9 a.m. at Chaminade High. The first of three team tournaments is scheduled for Nov. 11 at a site to be determined.

The league, not affiliated with the California Interscholastic Federation, was organized by fencing coaches to provide high school athletes who parry, reprise, fleche and thrust with a structured season similar to those of mainstream interscholastic sports.

"We were kind of experimenting with it the last year or two, and now we are more organized," Harvard Coach Ted Katzoff said. "This is our first actual 'season.' "

Katzoff, who is Master-at-Arms at Westside Fencing Center in Culver City and has taught fencing at UCLA, started coaching at Harvard in 1980.

"Fencing, like equestrian, is one of these esoteric sports, and the people who learn them just don't learn them at (any) school," said Chaminade Coach Father Lawrence Calhoun. "We're hoping this will grow and lead to some kind of state championship."

High school fencers have been forced to compete on a club basis against sanctioned USFA opponents or against fencers from the few schools that participate in the sport. In recent years, the USFA has sponsored monthly high school tournaments in Southern California, which has helped generate interest.

During the mid-1980s, Katzoff taught the basics of foil fencing to physical education instructors throughout Southern California through a grant by the Amateur Athletic Foundation.

Coaches at schools where the sport has flourished have expressed interest in forming leagues that will include team competition.

"It's more fun to fence as a team than just as an individual thing," Calhoun said. "It's nice to have team wins. That's when you have spirit and can stand there and cheer."

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