The drill ends soon, which is good because I’ve lost interest and Wanda, sensing my apathy, has lost patience. Coach Dan, Rex and Kassie have brought in what passes for Bark Bay High School’s fencing equipment — two large canvas sacks, one for masks and the other for jackets and gloves, and a long duffel bag for our weapons. They’re weapons, not swords. As they place our dirty, unlabeled equipment bags next to the Academy’s rolling duffels, all clean and perfect and adorned with the large Academy shield, I feel embarrassed, like we’re third-class passengers sneaking into the first-class cabin.
I remember what my father said when I told him I wanted to try out for the fencing team. He couldn’t believe Bark Bay had a fencing team, said he thought fencing was an elitist sport, like golf or polo. I hear pretty much the same thing from a lot of my friends. And if the only fencers you ever saw were from the Academy, or one of the other private schools or larger public schools around the state, in their immaculate white uniforms with names down the legs, carrying their weapons that glisten in the light, wearing masks that shield their heads in a gray shield that looks impenetrable — you couldn’t help but think all that equipment looks expensive, and sure, you’d think fencing was an upper-class sport.
But if you spent more than fifteen minutes with the fencing team from Bark Bay, or most any of the other small public schools in the state, you would see an entirely different picture. You’d see uniforms turned grey from years of use, always reeking of old sweat no matter how frequently you washed them. You’d see gloves that are so dirty, so sweat-drenched, so frayed and torn, that they make the uniforms look good. You’d see weapons with bent blades, dented hilts, grips that rattle loose with every movement. You’d see masks faded and dented, none fitting perfectly, the cloth neck aprons flacid and tattered, the padding having long been knocked out.
Public school fencing is largely invisible, and there are times I certainly appreciate that, because if someone were to look at us they would know, even without knowing anything about the sport, that we look like a sandlot baseball team, pulling together whatever equipment could be used to start a game (we’ll use this block of wood for first, that tree will be second, small kids use the wood bat and big kids use the metal, we’ll have to share gloves. And if they compared us to the Academy, they’d think these Bark Bay guys are out of their league.
So yeah, I understand why people think fencing’s an elitist sport. And it bothers me to know that because of this belief, teams like ours will never be taken seriously.