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April 17, 2012
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Huskies fencing goes national

EDWARDS - Battle Mountain High School's fencing club is sending five members to the national championships next week in Cleveland for a sport that gets little recognition locally - fencing.

Battle Mountain's Michael Weiss, Brooke Strehler, Noel Smith, Levi Gilbert and Trevor Davidson will soon be on their way to the home of the rock 'n' roll, one of the most back-stabbing industries on earth. It works out well because in their event, epee (pronounced EP-pay), you can stick people almost anywhere to score points.

And this is where the attorneys tell us fencers are not stabbing one another, they're "touching." And those aren't swords, sabers or foils, they're "necessary sport-specific equipment."

Whatever. In Cleveland, Battle Mountain's boys and girls teams will fence individually, then as boys and girls teams.

"It attracts teams from all over the country," said Don Watson, the team's coach.

They may or may not win, but they'll know what it's like to compete for a national title.

Watson and assistant coach Cooter Overcash say that of these five kids, a couple might have an honest-to-swashbuckler shot at a national title. It's one of those timing-is-everything stories.

"They'll learn quickly how high that bar is set." Watson said.

Many in the valley have heard of Watson - he performed live music at the Sonnenalp for years and now he's loving life in entertainment at the Four Seasons in Vail.

He's been in Vail for 30 years or more, and there hasn't been much fencing. This, he decided, would never do.

Watson wrestled in high school, at 119 pounds. He wanted to wrestle at State University of New York, but wasn't fond of the idea of someone trying to push his head through the floor.

He took fencing as a college class, loved it and helped start a club in college.

Fast forward to Vail. A local family donated some money and equipment and he started fencing programs at a couple of local schools. It helps that the cost of running a fencing program plummeted. Fencing is scored through computer programs that used to cost $5,000 - now they cost about $500.

"It went from being high-end technology to an (application)," Watson said.

Watson and Overcash run a weekly drop-in fencing program at 11:15 a.m. on Saturdays at the Avon Recreation Center. One day master John Wills walked in.

"He just showed up and asked, 'Hey, can I help?'" Watson said.

Having John Wills wander into your fencing class is a little like Jack Nicklaus strolling over to your par 3 golf course. Wills is a former national coach who helped create the nation's second largest youth program in Pittsburgh - his list of accomplishments is almost endless.

His teacher taught glider pilots to survive behind enemy lines. His teacher's teacher taught hand-to-hand combat to the French Foreign Legion.

He lives in Singletree these days and advises Battle Mountain's club. Great coaching helps.

Noel Smith is a Battle Mountain junior. Overcash's daughter, Shannon, got her into fencing and she stuck. She's been studying ballet for years and it shows in the fluid and graceful way she skewers - uh, we mean touches - her opponents.

Michael Weiss has been fencing since he was small. He saw a fencing video when he was 8 years old and begged his parents to let him try it. For Chanukah they gave him a month of lessons and he's been doing it ever since.

Fencers wear white, Overcash explained. Before judges and electronic scoring, the epee was tipped with a cloth dipped in red. It left a mark. It still does.

Get "touched" hard enough and it'll leave a bruise.

It's physical chess. You attack and defend at the same time, Overcash said.

There are rules, but it's not a complicated sport, Watson said.

"Stick and don't get stuck," Watson said.

Fencing goes back to when the first cave men picked up a sharpened stick and used it on someone to settle a dispute.

"Do it better and you get to go home," Watson said. "If you don't, you still get to go home, but in a box."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Apr 17, 2012 11:55PM Published Apr 17, 2012 11:48PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.