|Tim Morehouse celebrates during the men's saber team
quarterfinals at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on Aug. 17, 2008.
NEW YORK -- Move over football and soccer, there’s a new sport coming to the schoolyards — and no ball, court or even a team is required. Starting next month Tim Morehouse, a three-time Olympian and 2008 Olympic silver medalist, is bringing the sport of fencing to inner-city schools in New York.
Morehouse, a Bronx native, has founded a non-profit organization called Fencing-in-the-Schools, a program dedicated to introducing the sport to disadvantaged students in order to improve their fitness, classroom performance and self-confidence. The organization was celebrated last night at a fundraising event at the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City. Ticket sales from the event will directly contribute to fund the program’s launch.
“Fencing gave me a lot of confidence as a kid,” Morehouse said. “This sport can really change people’s lives.”
Fencing-in-the-Schools’ pilot program will start with more than 1,500 students at six schools in East and West Harlem through a partnership with the Democracy Prep charter school network. Several of the school’s teachers and staff members were at the event last night.
“All of our core values have a natural friendship with fencing,” Democracy Prep CEO Katie Duffy said.
She stressed that the school’s policies on discipline and respect are highlighted in a controlled sport like fencing and that her students love participating in it.
“The kids are having a blast,” she said. “They’re practicing in gym class, before school, in the courtyard. They get very excited.”
To begin each program, a group of Olympians will go to the schools to train the physical education teachers so the sport can be incorporated into the gym classes. Morehouse emphasized that having the Olympians involved with the students directly is essential to the success of the organization.
|Jason Rogers, James Williams, Tim Morehouse and Keeth Smart
wave to the crowd after winning the silver medal
at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on Aug. 17, 2008.
“Every program will be opened by an assembly of Olympians; that way the kids will have great role models,” he said.
Although the program is starting in New York City, national interest is growing as well. Morehouse mentioned that the organization already has received requests from schools in Idaho, Florida and Illinois asking for introductions to fencing programs. And with First Lady Michelle Obama being a strong proponent of exercise with her “Let’s Move” campaign, Morehouse believes that Fencing-in-the-Schools can transition into a national movement for promoting healthier lifestyles for students.
“This is the perfect sport for Let’s Move,” Morehouse said. “Every kid can do it. There’s no bench in fencing.”
While combating childhood obesity is one goal for Fencing-in-the-Schools, another is instilling a sense of confidence in the students.
“Every kid has a swordfighter in them,” said Daryl Homer, a U.S. Olympic Fencing Team member and Fencing-in-the-Schools ambassador. “It’s human nature.”
Homer first became interested in fencing when he read the word in a dictionary at 5 and soon begged his mother to let him try the sport. As he practiced, he became attracted to both the sport’s competitive and intellectual aspects.
“It’s like physical chess,” Homer said.
Later in the evening Homer was able to demonstrate his skills as the event ended with two fencing matches. The first was between Olympians Nicole Ross and Nzingha Prescod, and the second was between Morehouse and Homer. Ross and Nzingha are coming off a fourth-place finish at a World Cup in Germany, which marked the best finish for the U.S. Women’s Foil Team since 2007.
|Tim Morehouse attends the U.S. Olympic Committee
Benefit Gala at USA House at the Royal College of Art on July
26, 2012 in London, England.
Before the matches in New York City, Morehouse explained that fencing began as a sport of kings and nobility who often dueled for honor. To this day the sport holds on to many of its aristocratic traditions, such as bowing and saluting to one’s opponent. This refined atmosphere is one of the sport’s many qualities that make it attractive to students.
“I like fencing because it’s a harmless way to interact with people,” said 11-year-old Democracy Prep student Tyrese.
“You can’t just stab someone,” added fellow student 11-year-old Jaden. “You have to have strategy.”And the kid’s aren’t alone. The school’s staff is intrigued by fencing as well.
“It’s every kid’s fantasy to be a knight,” Democracy Prep Principal Margaret Marrer said. “Now the stories they read can come alive.”
The long-term goal for Fencing-in-the-Schools is to have 1 million students enrolled in fencing classes by 2023. And judging by the buzz of enthusiasm in the air at the event last night, that aim doesn’t seem too far out of reach.
“I mean, what kid doesn’t love sword-fighting?” Morehouse asked. “I taught (President) Obama how to fence on the lawn of the White House. But this is the coolest night of my life.”