Fencing Club hosts Hellbender Open

The Allegheny Fencing Club held its annual Hellbender Open fencing tournament on Sunday in the Wise Center that featured feints, parries and ripostes everywhere. Fencing enthusiasts from across the United States and even a few international competitors showed up for the event.

Organized by the AFC, this year’s attendance at the spring tournament was relatively low, with only around 40 competitors. Usually, more than 100 competitors are drawn to the campus annually.

There were many high-ranked fencers in the competition. The highlight of the field was Walt Dragonetti, who won the World’s Fencing Title in 2009.

Several Allegheny students were also involved in the competition. Stewart Deland, ’13, Carolyn Kiliany, ’11, Deb Burnett, ’10, Amy Frake, ’12, Brendan O’Leary, ’11, and Professor of Economics Tomas Nonnenmacher composed Allegheny’s entries.

Jesse Billingsly, a local high school student, also fences with the AFC.

The showcase exhibited both Epee and Foil fencing. The target area on each competitor largely differentiates the styles.

Every competitor paid $25 to participate in the event. The cost of the competition was covered by the AFC’s budget. The entrance fee was used to pay for the event’s judges and use of the computerized scoring machines.

Hellbender’s event coordinator, Nonnemacher, has a storied history with the sport dating back to high school in New Jersey. Fencing is far more common there than in western Pennsylvania, he said.

Nonnemacher fenced while attending Allegheny in the late ’80s. When the professor came back to teach, the program had disintegrated. His love for the sport was a major component in reviving the club.

Kiliany, club president, really loves the sport. She enjoys participating in tournaments throughout the year because it provides opportunities to meet new friends and varied opponents.

Kiliany said the way the sport brings people together is wonderful.

“Size and sex do not determine the sport,” she said.

Her teammate Burnett, reiterated Kiliany’s sentiment and said it is not uncommon to see a teenage female competing against a 60-year-old man.

“Age does not matter in fencing,” Burnett added. “Body size is not an issue.”

These attributes of fencing were on display in the open. An onlooker could see a 14-year-old girl on one strip and a 70-year-old man on the next.

“I don’t know if there is another sport that competes across age and gender as much,” Nonnemacher said.

This feeling of unity seems to spread all around the sport. The Hellbender tournament, though relatively small, was able to draw competitors from places as far away as Hawaii, Virginia, Michigan and even Germany.

Burnett greatly appreciated the international connection. When she went to France, Burnett felt like a complete foreigner.

“Once we started fencing, there was something familiar between us,” Burnett said. “It’s something that goes with you everywhere.”

Anyone connected with the tournament had a smile on their face and was ready to profess their love of the sport.

“It’s a great sport,” Nonnemacher said. “You can play it for life.”

Any student interested in fencing should come tothe Wise Center on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the semester.