With a permanent home, the Three Swords Fencing Club is poised for the next step.
The club leased and modified space this spring in Traverse City. The 2,400-square-foot facility now has a shock-absorbing floor painted with four fencing strips, two of which have an overhead electronic scoring system.
The investment in April was a leap of faith that club leaders were pleased to take.
"We were wanting to have more practices and the ability to control our own schedule," said Doug Schultz, an avid fencer shepherding the club's growth. "We had enough people to support having our own space, so we just decided to go ahead."
The Cass Road facility also has an armory room to store club equipment, which includes sabres, foils and épées -- the three fencing swords -- as well as protective gear. The inventory has slowly accumulated since Three Swords Fencing Club officially launched in 2009.
Fencing had previously been taught and practiced intermittently in Traverse City for years; Schultz began taking classes locally in 2002.
Renting dedicated space while continuing to offer classes through Northwestern Michigan College will give the classic sport staying power.
"It is fantastic to have this space," said veteran fencer Ron Hardin, of Acme. "The biggest part of success in this sport is just having continuity; with this facility you can have continuity."
To keep interest alive during the summer break, the club is offering weekly open practice sessions. In addition, club members are teaching two, four-week courses through the college's Extended Education Services: Youth Beginning Fencing on Sundays and Youth Intermediate Fencing starting this Thursday.
"We have probably about 20 people who show up on a fairly regular basis, although it gets a little slower in summertime," Schultz said. "Fencing season is basically from fall to early summer."
Another change Schultz is considering is creating a fencing team. This step would provide club members -- both youth and adult -- with structure and support to build skills as well as attend and participate in fencing competitions downstate.
This would also encourage kids to choose fencing as their sport instead of it being just a recreational activity. Full fencing gear and a uniform, multiple practices per week, a private lesson, cross training and studying the sport are some other ideas for the team.
"The whole team idea is that people would be more serious if they could choose fencing as their thing," said Schultz, noting the club was also exploring a mentoring program.
The challenge with student fencers, especially high school age ones, is that even if they are very interested in the sport they are usually already booked with other activities. Having a team might help tip the balance while also engaging younger students for the long term.
"We hope to capture more students and people who will continue to be interested throughout the years," Schultz said.
While they would still offer recreational fencers opportunities to learn and practice, a Three Swords Fencing Club team might appeal to devoted fencers like Dylan McBride. The homeschool student began studying fencing in the fall of 2010. She was captivated by the sport also known as "physical chess" and is determined to continue training.
"I've always wanted to do it because my dad fenced when I was little," said McBride, who will attend Interlochen Arts Academy as a freshman in the fall. "It's very much about staying focused, competing against yourself to be the best that you can possibly be."
Abbey Perria, who will be a senior at Traverse City Central High School, began fencing in 2008 but "got serious" about 18 months ago. Perria has fenced in some competitions downstate and hopes to participate in more next season.
"It's very, very much a mental sport," she said.
For more information on the Three Swords Fencing Club, see www.threeswordsfencing.com.