On October 21, Sara Kass will be hosting the 18th Escrime d’Halloween youth fencing tournament. The pre-registration numbers for this year’s event have exceeded expectations, which is a mixed blessing for Kass.
“I’m already at over 150 entries, and 120 athletes. This is an amazing comment of the growth in youth fencing!” said the owner and head coach of Cyrano’s Place fencing club in Lakewood Ohio. Both numbers (an athlete can enter multiple events) are well over fifty percent higher than last year’s, an increase which Kass attributed in part to the US national team earning four medals at last summer’s Rio Olympics. “I’m going to be running 10 strips [the 14 meter long and 2 meter wide playing field for fencing], which is 3 more than I needed last year.” Typically an energetic woman who speaks rapidly as if racing to her next appointment, her pace suddenly slows. “A hundred entries, maybe 125. That’s what I expected. But I’m at 150. And we’re still two weeks out.”
Yet when asked to recall the first youth tournament her club attended, Kass resumes her rapid-fire rhythm. “There was a fencing club in Indiana that had a bunch of youth fencers, as did Cyrano’s. We discussed having a tournament, and they agreed to host and have us travel. They found us a cottage house, where our kids camped overnight in sleeping bags.. There were maybe 30 fencers. It was an amazing weekend — I remember the smiles on the kids’ faces, as they learned some wonderful lessons about competition and camaraderie. It was very much a developmental event, and still is. The following year, was my turn to host. The club in Indiana did not want to host again, so the Escrime [the French word for fencing] became our annual event.”
Kass has built a strong youth fencing program over the last two and a half decades. “Other clubs have kids, but we have the greatest numbers, specifically 12 years and unders. It’s fun to watch kids start in youth events, and go on to college programs. But even the kids who don’t stay with the sport, and get into other things — they take with them life lessons from fencing. Like how there’s always someone coming after you in some way, and you have to decide how to deal with them. The fencing mentality is to adapt, keep going forward, do what’s right. I enjoy knowing when kids walk out my club’s door, they are better citizens because of fencing.”
And as one of few female fencing coaches in Ohio, Kass particularly enjoys seeing her young women realize their potential. “Men have athletic advantages over women — they’re typically bigger, faster, and stronger, but women can negate those advantages through strategy. So I jokingly tell my female students, ‘when you’re in grammar school, boys are there. When you’re in middle school, they’re there to compete with, and when you’re in high school, they’re there to compete with and beat. When you’re older, I’ll tell you about college.’”