By Amanda Cupido
Ryerson’s fencing team is hoping their championship plans won’t be foiled this year.
With dwindling finances, broken equipment and the threat of losing their varsity status, the team wants to prove they have a spot in Ryerson athletics at the upcoming Ontario University Athletics (OUA) qualifying competition.
“People don’t know about fencing at Ryerson,” says Linette Chu, one of three girls that are on the fencing team. “We are always practicing but because we are downstairs no one sees us.”
Second year fencer Kevin Hamilton said he thinks the team would still be looked over by the Ryerson community, even if they were more successful at competitions.
“The problem is, if it’s not broadcasted, no one will see it,” he said.
The sport has been at Ryerson since the 1960s, but when the fencing club was cut two years ago, the team lost their main source for new members.
And to further plunge the rapier into their hearts, cuts to the OUA changed the structure of their league to save money and fencing became “eventbased” — substantially decreasing their budget.
“Ryerson used to be famous for fencing,” said Alice Lu, the head coach and former professional fencer from China.
“Every year, less and less people join.”
Last year, the fencers did not have a physical trainer from the Recreation and Athletics Centre (RAC), a service provided to the rest of the varsity teams. Hamilton was worried the fencing team would fold.
“We discussed in hushed tones about being removed as a varsity team if we didn’t medal,” he said.
Ivan Joseph, director of athletics, said that there will be some changes in the department’s structure in the near future, especially when the women’s hockey team will become a varsity team in 2010.
But amendments will only be made after a committee comprised of students, alumni, coaches and captains finalize a proposal in April.
He said the fencing team shouldn’t worry about being on the chopping block — their budget is too small to even cover the expenses for a varsity hockey team.
“We would have to cut fencing, rowing, badminton and still you wouldn’t even have enough,” he said. “Hockey is an expensive sport.”
But even if their finances are limited and their future is uncertain, Lu is working alongside a volunteer coach to prepare the team for the qualifying competition.
“This year, most of the fencers are new,” she said. “Half of them have never competed.”
After training with Lu for two years, Hamilton is determined to be part of the team until his final days at Ryerson. He likes the fast pace of fencing.
“You have to make decisions very quickly,” he said. “You are expected to come up with a plan but be able to change it at a drop of a pin.”
But Hamilton wants the team to improve for their own benefit and not because they feel threatened to produce gold medals so they can be taken seriously by the university.
“I don’t feel pressured, I feel motivated,” he said. “The coaches are bringing out something we have in ourselves.”
Ryerson’s best chance at a medal this year is Faiz Khan since he brought home a bronze medal at the Brock Invitational tournament in November.
And now that the fencers have a fitness trainer, they can be more competitive with fencing heavyweights University of Toronto and the Royal Military College.
But with many of the team’s veterans set to graduate soon, Lu wants fencing at Ryerson to be restored to its former glory. And she’s not just looking for experienced fencers to join the team.
“I can train anyone,” she said. “There are no physical specifications for fencers.”