Fencing event draws crowd

Wellness Center hosts 2013 Lewis and Clark Open on Saturday afternoon.

Clay Willoughby (right) instructs fencers Michael Anson (left) and Jason Schoenack (center). Photo by Marie Monson/The Dakota Student.

The UND Fencing Club hosted the 2013 Lewis and Clark Open on Saturday at the UND Wellness Center and had a great turnout, bringing in a variety of ages and skill levels.

North Dakota Fencing Association fencing events are open to everyone and no membership is required. There were 24 fencers registered for the tournament, 11 of which came from UND’s club. The rest were either unaffiliated or from other clubs in the state.

“Today’s turnout is good,” instructor and long time UND club member Greg Porath said. “I wasn’t expecting this many people. And it’s a lot of beginners, which is good. It’s great because I haven’t seen or fenced with the people from Fargo in a couple of years, so I get to see people I haven’t seen in a while.”

Porath has been a member of the club since 1991.

UND’s club has been active for more than 20 years, but hasn’t hosted a tournament since 2009.

“This is the only home tournament,” club president Travis Waller said. “It’s our first local tournament in Grand Forks that we’ve had in four years. We’re trying to pick it back up and really have Grand Forks as a fencing location again.”

Waller, a junior, is one of the nationally ranked fencers on UND’s team, and he’s come a long way since joining his freshman year.

“I hadn’t had prior experience to fencing before my freshman year,” Waller said. “I was born in western North Dakota … there’s no fencing out there. I actually started as a joke … fell in love with it, and here I am.”

Waller has been to a handful of local tournaments, and this year he intends on going to the national tournament in Minneapolis.

UND’s club has a core group of about eight people, according to Porath. It’s competitive, but it also provides fencers of all ages with a learning experience.

Clay Willoughby, the club’s adviser, takes part in fencing and also coaches the younger members on how to improve. There are multiple participants who have had many years of experience with the sport and have provided the newcomers with instruction.

“If we went in and people were being big jerks about it, no one would want to come back,” Porath said. “We are here to have a lot of fun. After a tournament, we go out to dinner and we talk.”

As far as Saturday’s turnout goes, some credit goes to Willoughby.

“We have a bunch of members from UND’s fencing class here,” Waller said. “Clay (Willoughby) actually sets up these tournaments and he teaches the class.”

The UND Fencing Club takes part in tournaments around the state and country, but not everyone travels because of costs and busy schedules.

“It depends who has the time and who can afford it,” Porath said.

Participation and ability levels also vary.

“It depends on how serious they are,” Porath said. “If they come in and take it seriously — they practice, they listen — then yeah, it takes a while to learn. But I’ve seen people get a lot better.”

The next fencing tournament in the Midwest is the Gopher Open 2013, which will take place on Nov. 9-10 at the University of Minnesota.

Marie Monson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].