Flaming Blades Duel in Tennessee


Courtesy of Gabe Fisher

Captain and sophomore Izzy Esler (left) duels an opponent during a tournament in Knoxville, TN. The women’s Flaming Blades squad placed 19th out of 31 teams.

Grace Barlow

This past weekend, the fencing team traveled to Knoxville, TN, in order to compete in the United States Fencing Club championship. Eighteen fencers, clad in the team’s trademark rainbow knee-high socks, spent two days in intense competition.

“It was a really successful tournament,” captain and sophomore Izzy Esler said. “Everything went smoothly, and everyone was having a good time.”

The women’s foil squad placed 19th out of 31 teams.

“We’re really proud of that, considering we’re only a small club here at Oberlin,” Esler said.

Despite their roster size, the Flaming Blades are members of two different fencing leagues. The Midwestern Fencing Conference, which culminates in a championship every March, is the overarching league for all club and varsity teams within Ohio and the surrounding states Fencing is an NCAA-sanctioned sport, with larger schools like Ohio State University and Notre Dame College producing Olympic-level fencers. At conference meets, Oberlin students have the opportunity to square off against some of the best college fencers.

“It’s a privilege to go see them fence and compete with them,” Esler said.

However, most of the team’s competition comes from similar club teams at Bowling Green University, Xavier University and Case Western Reserve University.

In addition to the Midwestern conference, the team is also a member of the United States Fencing Association, which hosts the annual club championship. Prior to attending the USFA championship, the team competes at two to three dual meets each year. Most of its competitions are team formats, where squads of three from each school are entered. If the team wins five out of nine victories, the team wins the round. This past season, the team competed at Ohio State University as well as Case Western.

The Blades have operated as a club sport at Oberlin since the 1970s, but their history goes back much farther. Fencing is the oldest chartered sport at the College and was a varsity sport during the 1930s. In recent years the club has worked hard to once again increase the visibility of the sport.

“Through enthusiastic student leadership, they teach, recruit, train, fundraise and travel to compete,” said Director of Recreation and Club Sports Betsy Bruce.

The fencing ExCo has been run by team members for several years and remains the most important tool for generating interest. In addition, the team has worked to increase its competitive edge by working with Walt Dragonetti, a coach at Cleveland club Hooked on Fencing and a former national champion.

The Blades practice twice a week in Hales gym, where Coach Dragonetti joins them to help lead the team through drills and footwork. The team is fully operational in that it has the equipment to fence all three types of weapons — foil, épée and sabre — as well as repair equipment and provide all necessary gear for new fencers.

The team hopes to continue its storied history here at Oberlin in the coming years.

“Continuity is what we hope for,” Esler said. “This is the first time in a while we have brought a full 18person squad to a tournament, and we want to continue doing so.”

In addition, the team will continue to improve its ExCo in order to recruit new members.

“I took the fencing ExCo my freshman year and joined the team immediately after,” said senior fencer Sam McCright. “It’s challenging both physically and mentally.”

The Flaming Blades will host a home tournament on April 27, where they will be competing against teams from across the Midwest.