Austin Chun and Dylan Boyle stood facing each other, wearing protective fencing gear—and balloons atop their fencing masks.
"On guard!" yelled Coach Gordon Gandy. And the sparring began. Chun and Boyle advanced and retreated several times, each attempting to pop the balloon atop the other's mask with a sabre.
"Oh my gosh! This is scary!" Chun, a seventh-grader at Hawthorn Middle School North, yelled from behind his mask.
When the match was over, neither claimed victory since Gandy ultimately popped the slowly-deflating balloon atop Chun's mask.
"Dylan, you're scary," Chun said to his opponent, also a seventh-grader. "It was very scary, especially against an experienced fencer."
Hawthorn Middle School North is home to a new fencing club that just started a few weeks ago. Coach Gandy has a fencing club at the Libertyville Tennis Club and is also the assistant fencing coach at Stevenson High School.
"We're trying to grow fencing," said Gandy. "In middle school, they're like a sponge—they can just soak it up."
He added that he's trying to establish fencing clubs at Libertyville, Mundelein and Vernon Hills High Schools.
"It's good for the kids. It's fresh," said Robert Collins, principal of Middle School North. "We have a good turnout.
Twenty-two students attended the Monday afternoon Fencing Club at the school. Gandy spent a lot of time teaching the students some basic fencing moves and giving them important tips.
"Your first defense is always your feet," said Gandy. "Keep your knees bent so you can move."
He invited a series of students to practice advancing and retreating against him.
"This is the rhythm of fencing," said Gandy.
He explained that anyone can succeed at fencing, regardless of age or size.
"I'm a big, old man. I'm not fast running long distances," said Gandy. "But I am tremendously fast in short distances."
The important thing, he said, is that "you can't anticipate. You have to react." And you have to watch a person's movement.
"If you're watching my eyes, you'll never see me hit. You'll never see me move," said Gandy.
Gandy also stressed the importance of talking to your opponent while fencing. He invited a student from his club at the Libertyville Tennis Club, Lia Pelech, to comment on her opponent's hair or shoes while they were sparring.
"When I fence, I talk to my opponent," said Gandy. Tapping his hand on a student's head, Gandy added that "this, inside here, is what you've got to beat. If I get somebody mad, I've won already. Fencing is called physical chess."
Cassidy Gillespie and Luis Catalan, both seventh-graders, had a chance to spar against each other.
"It was a lot of fun," said Cassidy. "I really like the lunges."
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