Written by Chris Boyle, email@example.com Thursday, 19 September 2013 00:00
Fencing, a competitive sport well-known for its place in Olympic history, is not just for the young; it is something that can even be picked up and mastered later in life, and that’s the point that the En Garde Fencing Club is trying to make.
Currently based out of the Plainview Public Library, the En Garde Fencing Club welcomes all comers, regardless of age or sex; Old Bethpage resident Melvyn M. Drossman, 76, a retired electrical engineering and computer science teacher, became an avid fan of the sport almost immediately after being exposed to it.
“Two years ago, I saw a flyer for the club, I called, and spoke to Jack, the president, and he told me to come on down,” he said. “I watched them fencing, and they were so fantastic, I couldn’t even follow their foil tips...they were that fast. Then I found out their ages and I thought, this is better than life insurance!”
Club president Jack Hayne, 89, has been fencing his whole life since he was 12 years old, only taking a brief break from the sport while serving in World War II. When he came home, he re-embraced fencing when he got a job at the Grumman Aerospace Corporation in Bethpage.
“The En Garde Fencing Club already existed at Grumman when I started there after I got out of the military...that was in 1964,” said Hayne, an Old Bethpage resident. “I fenced there, even after I retired, until September 11, 2001...after the terrorist attacks in New York City, security was tightened at Grumman and only active employees were allowed on the grounds, so we left and took the club to Temple Beth Elohim.”
Originally the En Garde Fencing Club was meeting twice a week when they were practicing out of Temple Beth Elohim of Old Bethpage; however, with the Temple’s recent closing, En Garde has taken to meeting at the Plainview Library once a week until a permanent substitute can be found; Hayne is currently scouting other local establishments regarding such an arrangement.
Drossman delved head-first into fencing right away, and despite being considered a “junior” member, he already he says the sport of fencing has changed his life for the better.
“It was difficult, because in my youth I was more of a bookish type than athletic,” he said. “But with a lot of patience, I have finally developed something of an ability to respond to this, and it’s been like a rebirth to me...It’s something I thought I would die not being able to do any such thing, but here I am. I’m certainly not Olympic potential, but I’m thrilled with it.”
There are three different weapons involved in fencing- the foil, the saber, and the epee, with each serving a different style of competitive sword fighting. Wearing protective jackets, gloves, and helmets, fencing practitioners attempt to attack, parry, and score points on their opponents with specific strikes that require equal parts of speed, dexterity, and lightning-fast strategy, according to Hayne.
The En Garde Fencing Club charges no fees, and has spare jackets, helmets, and swords to lend to prospective members until they get their feet wet.
Alec Pappas, a 91-year-old Greenlawn resident, has also been involved with the sport of fencing most of his life, taking it up at 12 years of age and keeping up with it most of his life. Also a former Grumman employee, Pappas has been in the En Garde Fencing Club as long as Hayne, and he credits it with keeping him healthy and spry.
“It hones all your reactions and keeps you young, and it’s a very gratifying sport,” he said. “It’s a very interesting sport, and contrary to what most people think, it’s a very tiring sport...in an actual match you can’t do more than five or 10 minutes before you’re completely exhausted. It’s a great sport.”