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Looking for next Olympic fencer

Lake Oswego Parks and Rec conducts a fencing camp for youngsters at Palisades Elementary
by: Jonathan House, About 20 kids showed up last for a youth fencing youth camp that was sponsored by Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation. Christopher Lam, right, does battle against his brother, Alexander, foreground. Below, two fencers square off while several students wait their turn. After four days of learning the basics, students competed in a round-robin tournament.

The metallic clang of blades colliding with each other rang out from the gym at Palisades Elementary School last week. There were attacks and parries as intense duels took place over the course of a few hours.

But behind the masks and padded chest guards were children ages six to 12. A week-long class put on by the Oregon Fencing Alliance was offered through the Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation Department and close to 20 children enrolled this summer.

The first four days of the class were spent learning about the sport of saber fencing. Students were taught about each part of the saber and given a brief history of fencing.

Then a number of games were played that were meant to increase the children's agility, reflexes and hand-eye coordination. Eventually, the students learned the basic strategies of fencing and techniques.

'It's like battling with light sabers. I really recommend fencing,' said Brian Karstadt.

On the final day of the class, two round robin tournaments are held where students are divided by age groups and compete against each other.

'The whole thing was really fun. I really liked doing the tournament,' said Maria Uhri.

Although they are all beginners the two coaches from the Oregon Fencing Alliance don't take it easy on them. Yellow cards are given out for not saluting before a match and for one's legs being crossed during a bout.

The students cheer on their friends from the sidelines and even give some hints that they recently picked up.

After each point, most of which last just a few seconds, the coaches give a brief summary of what occurred and why they made their particular ruling.

Although they are well-protected, the sabers are still heavy. But the young fencers only walked away with a few bruised knuckles.

'It's kind of hard to get hurt,' said Ahren Lucchini.

The Oregon Fencing Alliance has been teaching classes in Lake Oswego for a number of years, instilling the very basics of the sport to youngsters and then handing out certificates for a free lesson.

Although fencing is far from being a mainstream sport in the United States, the Oregon Fencing Alliance is one of the most respected programs in the country. The only American fencing medal earned in the modern Olympics was awarded to a former student at the alliance. And in the upcoming 2008 Olympics in Beijing, three of the four American competitors in women's saber will come from the alliance.

'People just don't know much about us but this is a beautiful sport that's over 400 years old,' said Charles Randall, a teacher at the Oregon Fencing Alliance.

Randall hopes that this success will not only help the sport's popularity in the Portland-metro area but also around the United States.

He is also quick to point out to the children in attendance and to their parents that there are thousands of scholarships given out by colleges for fencing.

'I think it'd be cool to keep fencing and get a scholarship to Notre Dame,' said Jonathan Whittle.

A number of the students in this particular class already have plans to take advantage of their one free lesson and some of them hope that they can continue fencing in the future.

'You don't see results right away. It takes four or five years to create a decent fencer. It's really like physical chess,' Randall said.

Fencing classes also will be offered through Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation in the winter.