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Local fencers enjoy spectacular careers

May 1, 2011

Daphne Homen

Pawtucket’s Daphne Homen and Cumberland’s Caroline Mattos are two local high school students making a name for themselves as fencers at the Rhode Island Fencing Academy and Club in Warren.
Homen, who attends the Jacqueline M. Walsh School for the Performing Arts in Pawtucket, came to the club five years ago, worked her way up through the system, and now competes with the club team.
“Daphne earned a silver medal in a national qualifying tournament at the Boston Fencing Club in Waltham,” said Jeff Mooney, one of the RIFAC’s coaches. “She will compete in the national tournament in Reno, Nev. in early July.”
Mattos, a junior at La Salle Academy, began fencing at RIFAC at age 10, according to Mooney, and has won many medals in competition over the ensuing six years.
“Caroline has had a great career,” Mooney said. “She has finished in the top eight and even the top four at several national tournaments.”
RIFAC has been in existence since 1994. It is both an academy and a club, catering to youngsters and adults alike. The club has a main facility in Warren and a satellite facility in Warwick.
RIFAC is not the only fencing club in the local area. The Ocean State Fencing Club is located in Lincoln and offers classes for both children and adults. It also holds classes at the Pawtucket Family YMCA on Summer Street.
Woonsocket is home to the Blackstone Valley Fencing Academy, located at 68 South Main St.
“Most people know fencing from the Star Wars movies,” said RIFAC manager Mike Sweet. “That attracts some people to our club. Once they learn more about the sport, and the strategies and skills involved, they really enjoy it.”
One of the lures of fencing is its concept of individual action.
“It’s a sport where thinking and strategy are important,” Sweet added. “Most of our students come here looking for an activity they can participate in. Fencing seems to attract a certain type of person. For boys, it can be the idea that fencing is a physical sport. You are trying to hit the other fencer with your weapon. The girls seem to like the fact that fencing is a sport for individuals.”
Mooney explains the three categories of fencing – Foil, Epee and Saber.
“Both Daphne and Caroline compete in foil,” the coach said. “In foil, you have to touch your opponent with the point of the weapon. The target in foil is the torso, an arm or a leg.
“Epee is also a thrusting weapon but you can touch anywhere on your opponent’s body to score a point,” Mooney added. “In Saber, anywhere from the waist up is your target. You can also hit with the side of the blade, not just the point.”
RIFAC has approximately 250 students/competitors in its club. Classes often hold as many as 40 or 50 aspiring fencers.
“With young kids, the whole sword play aspect is almost romantic for them,” Mooney said. “When they get to class, they find out there’s a great amount of thought that goes into the sport. There’s a lot of athleticism involved. And then there is the great feeling of going toe to toe with an opponent.”
RIFAC’s club team competes against clubs from Boston, Billerica and Worcester.
“My guess is that fencing is a little overlooked (by the average sports fan),” Sweet said in a slight understatement. “People who are interested in fencing seem to find us. Our club has been around for 17 years and we’re pretty good at what we do.”
For high school students like Homen and Mattos, fencing opportunities continue at the college level, although not often with varsity teams.
“Caroline plans to fence in college,” Mooney said. “I don’t think Daphne will be fencing for her college but she will continue to compete at the club level. We have actually placed some of our fencers in colleges based on their experience in the sport. It opens some doors in college.”
Mooney, who works for RIFAC club owner/head coach Alex Ripa, believes that fencing is gaining some traction as a legitimate sports option for youngsters.
“I started coaching at RIFAC around 14 years ago,” Mooney said. “The club and the sport have both grown dramatically over the years. We’re working to appeal to a broader demographic. Word of mouth is still our best form of advertising.”
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Here are links to local fencing clubs:
Rhode Island Fencing Academy & Club: 91 Main Street, Warren, R.I. Phone: 401-245-7902. Website: http://rifac.com
Blackstone Valley Fencing Academy: 68 South Main Street, Building 2, Woonsocket, R.I. Email address: bvfencing@cox.net; mailing address: 32 Urrico Ave., North Smithfield, R.I. 02986. Website: http://bvfencing.com
Ocean State Fencing: 85 Industrial Circle, Lincoln, R.I. 02865. Contact: Tim Burns. Phone: 401-954-1620. Website: http://www.oceanstatefencing.com

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