The University of North Carolina is home to nearly 30,000 students and almost 30 division 1 teams. Of these many division 1 teams, the fencing team is one of the more intriguing ones. While the art of the blade and swordsmanship has been around for centuries, the sport of fencing did not become a thing until the late eighteenth century. While on campus for the first three weeks of college, I met multiple North Carolina fencing team members and was immediately captivated. I became good friends with a number of the freshmen fencers and I wanted to learn more about them and their sport. Through multiple interviews with team members, I set out for answers to my questions: “What are the benefits and drawbacks to being a student athlete on the UNC fencing team? Do these benefits outweigh the drawbacks?
Fencing has been an art and a concept for many centuries. Fencing came from the idea of a duel, performed with anything from daggers to swords. It was considered brave, honest, and a true art form. To master the blade meant that you were almost considered royalty. It wasn’t until the late 1800s and early 1900s that fencing became a sport, along with the Spanish school of Fencing. There were three main schools of fencing; the Italian school, the French school, and the Spanish school (Harvard, 25). These three schools along with incredible backstory of the history of swordsmanship paved the way for the sport of fencing today. UNC then adapted fencing to be a sport in the 1960s.
Being on a division 1 team is incredibly taxing for an individual who has to balance athletic, academic, and social aspects of their lives. Playing any sport in college takes an immense amount of dedication and drive. This is the case, even more so for fencing. Fencing is a delicate sport and it is truly beautiful. You have to practice in the areas of strength, conditioning, and, most importantly, swordsmanship. It is a meticulous and tedious process that can only warrant positive results through many hours of practice and struggle. It is mentally and physically draining and takes incredible passion to pursue this goal of mastery.
Arguably one of the most important aspects of being on a team is the team dynamic. A team at any level of education, whether it be high-school or college can become like a family. If the relationships between the players or between the players and coaches are nonexistent, then the team won’t be successful. Fencing is not a very mainstream sport, so you would expect the team bond to be especially strong, since it is a fairly closed-circuit sport. Team chemistry is the key to success, and having a supportive coaching staff and a welcoming team atmosphere breeds even more success (Ohio University, 1).
Observational Data Analysis:
With my previous basic research and conversations with the some of the fencing team members, I set out to conduct my own observations. I started by conducting an in-person interview with a female fencer, Ali Parker. Ali and I talked first about what fencing meant to her as an individual, and as a competitor. Ali was incredibly excited and helpful throughout our interview and answered all of my questions and I feel like it gave me a sense of what the fencing team mentality is.
My second observation was an interview conducted over zoom with a male fencer, Noah Shepanek. Noah and I went through many of the same questions that Ali and I went through. We discussed many items, ranging from, personal appeal to the sport, to COVID-19’s effects, to the restrictions and struggles, to the benefits and drawbacks of being on the fencing team. Both Ali and Noah were extremely genuine and passionate in every single one of their answers. They really made the process of interviewing, especially during a pandemic, easy and incredibly useful.
As a result of both of my interviews, I learned many things about my research questions. First, they both gave definitive answers for their benefits and drawbacks of being on a division 1 team. Many of the benefits included tutors, academic help, and at the top of both lists, comradery. They heavily emphasized the aspect of the team being like a family to them and how important it was to have a strong team chemistry between all of them. Secondly, while they were genuine and honest in their drawbacks, most were just related to the time crunch and the stress of having to juggle sports, academic, and social life. Finally, as an uncontroversial answer to my question, when both asked about the benefits outweighing the drawbacks, they were both honest and answered without hesitation, “100%.” It portrayed a certain sense of sheer commitment and love for the sport, no matter the costs. It was truly wholesome and heart-warming.
The fencing team is a tight-knit group of hardworking individuals who love what they do. The sense of comradery and family is unmistakable and envious for those who don’t share in that sense. This overwhelming sense of family and dedication to the sport is something I truly did not expect, but was incredibly pleased with.
I would have loved to interview more of the fencers and understand them on an individual and group level. It was honestly enjoyable conducting these interviews and truly enlightening to the manner of their mindset. I also wish I was able to attend a fencing team practice in-person, to assess and observe the team in their element and in an environment with multiple people. However, with COVID-19, this was unfortunately, unachievable.
In regards to my research questions, the overwhelming consensus was that the benefits of being on division 1 team, absolutely outweighed and stood above the drawbacks. Both Ali and Noah were unhesitant when asked about this particular question. Even when I probed further into the drawbacks, both showed an incredible drive and motivation to face whatever adversity was thrown at them. To elaborate, both said that they wouldn’t trade being on the team for anything, and that whatever happened with COVID-19 wouldn’t change their minds. I felt like after my interviews, I fully understood the importance and team mannerism of being on a division 1 team.
A Short History of Fencing. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2020, from http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~fencing/oldweb/history/fencinghistory.html
4 Ways to Improve Team Chemistry in Athletics. (2020, January 23). Retrieved September 23, 2020, Ohio University, from https://onlinemasters.ohio.edu/blog/4-ways-to-improve-team-chemistry-in-athletics/
Evans, B. A., & Pitts, J. D. (2017, January 8). Cross-Sport Recruiting Effects in NCAA D1 Football and Basketball. Journal of Sports Economics, Volume 19 Issue 6, Pages 820-842, Retrieved September 23, 2020, from https://journals-sagepub-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/doi/full/10.1177/1527002516684171?utm_source=summon
Ghloum, K., & Hajji, S. (2011, October 12). Comparison of diet consumption, body composition and lipoprotein lipid values of Kuwaiti fencing players with international norms. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Article 13, Retrieved September 23, 2020, from https://jissn-biomedcentral-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-8-13
Northrup, B., Share, & Meyer, M. (2019, November 06). The Tar Heels on the fencing team took home bronze medals at the Temple Open. Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2019/11/fencing-temple-gamer (Featured Image)