Youth interest in fencing has grown in recent years. Fencer Tim Morehouse is helping make sure it never slows.
The two-time Olympian, who took home a 2012 silver medal in team fencing, and fellow national team member Jeff Spear launched the first fencing program for Colorado Springs elementary school students last week. They led school assemblies at Banning Lewis Ranch Academy, Pikes Peak Prep, Queen Palmer Elementary School and STAR Academy, followed by a three-hour training session for physical education teachers.
The six-week program began this week. Student interest is as high as the decibel levels, judging from the cheers, heard during a recent assembly.
"I'm really excited," said Haley Misner, 11, a fifth-grader at Queen Palmer. "Not many kids get to do it."
The approximately 1,100 students were exposed to the Olympic sport thanks to Fencing In The Schools, a nonprofit founded by Morehouse, a former seventh-grade teacher in his native New York City, and Spear, of upstate New York, to reach children who never tried the activity before.
That may be more difficult as time goes by. Membership in USA Fencing has grown from 22,203 two summers ago, including 11,120 youths 18 and under, to 34,309 total last July, including 20,613 under 18.
Teaching is a good fit for Morehouse. He took up the sport at age 13, older than the children he and Spear have reached in nine states over the past two years.
"It is a great combination of my two passions; fencing and teaching," said Morehouse, who along with Spear continues to compete.
The assembly, which concluded with two teachers pitted against each other for the right to challenge Morehouse, got the kids jumping to their feet cheering for a sport they knew little about.
"I think I had seen it on TV once," fifth-grader Manuel Castaneda, 11, said. "I didn't think I would ever do it. I think it will be really fun and really hard."
Nine physical education teachers found that out during their training session when the two fencers taught them the basics of one of the original modern Olympic sports.
"I think teaching it in small steps is the best way," Pikes Peak Prep teacher Linda Johnson said. "We started talking to the kids about it on Monday and the kids are very excited."
The biggest challenge was learning the footwork required to maintain their balance while attacking or fending off charges. Safety was the main concern.
"The kids are really excited because it is different and because it is competitive," Banning Lewis Ranch Academy teacher Jeff Portwood said. "It promises to be a good class for them."