Kathy Vail has led Dunwoody High Fencing from its start as a small team in 2009 to a full club with a large practice area. Now, she’s won the United States Fencing Association’s Outstanding Service Award for Youth Fencing for her work building and coaching the program, which allows high school students to learn fencing and participate in competitions with other Georgia schools.

“Receiving the award at the National Championships in front of coaches and fencers from across the country was amazing and humbling,” Vail said. “To be asked to speak to young fencers about our sport was a great honor.”

Kathy Vail receives USA Fencing’s Outstanding Service Award for Youth Fencing at its National Championships in Columbus, Ohio, held in June and July. (Special)

USA Fencing is the national governing body for the sport of fencing in the United States. It oversees competitions and promoting the sport.

USA Fencing Membership Director Bob Bodor and Brandeis University Head Coach Jennie Salmon presented the award to Vail at the 2019 USA Fencing National Championships in Columbus, Ohio.

“You especially deserving for everything you do for the sport and for how much you did for the development of the youth component to the national level competitions,” Bodor said when presenting the award.

Q: How did you get started fencing?

A: My first experience with fencing was a physical education course in college. By taking that class, I discovered a sport that I have enjoyed for many years. I have gone on to do coaches’ training at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and continue to earn professional certifications through USA Fencing and the U.S. Fencing Coaches Association.

Q: How did you get involved teaching the Dunwoody High team?

A: In 2009, a student from my private fencing club, Dunwoody Fencing Club, asked me to help start a fencing team at DHS. I’ve been coaching the team ever since. At the start, we were a small team with limited practice space and time. As we grew and earned tournament medals, the DHS administration has given the team a large practice area and allows fencers to earn P.E. credit.

Q: What do you like about teaching youths?

A: Young students are always eager to try something new. Helping them discover the mental and physical aspects of our sport is rewarding. Watching the light bulb come on as they understand a new strategy or master a new tactic is great.

Q: What do you hope the students who teach learn from you?

A: I hope my students learn that with hard work they can achieve their goals, and learn about themselves as they progress. Good footwork and good blade work can take you a long way in our sport. Knowing what you want to achieve and what you need to do achieve it can make you a champion.

Students on the Dunwoody High Fencing team practice in a school hallway. (Special)

Q: What types of competitions does the team do?

A: The team competes in the Georgia High School Fencing League. There are eight tournaments, with men’s and women’s events, throughout the season culminating in Individual and Team Championships. The members of the DHS team also take part in the “GHSFL Day at the Capitol,” a fencing demonstration held in the state Capitol rotunda each year.

Q: How common are high school fencing teams?

A: Sixteen years ago, there were no high school fencing teams in Georgia. Today, there are 20 high school fencing teams that compete in the Georgia High School Fencing League. The GHSFL is the third largest high school fencing league in the nation. New York and New Jersey rank first and second.

Q: What do you think fencing teaches high schoolers?

A: Discipline, decisiveness and confidence. Although fencing is an individual sport, students also learn the value of being part of a team. Fencing provides a platform from which high school athletes can earn college scholarships and fence on a National Collegiate Athletic Association team. It can also provide a great way just to connect with other students when starting college

Q: What do you like about fencing?

A: Our sport has been called “physical chess” due to the combination of intelligence and athleticism required for fencing. I like the fact that while strength and agility are required, it is the smart fencer that, more often than not, wins the bout. I also enjoy sharing the long, colorful history of our sport. Fencing is great fun when you know the story behind an action or tactic.

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