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SHS student gears up for national fencing competition

When Blake Watson tells people that he fences, he says that they usually imagine him as Zorro or a light-saber-wielding Star Wars character. But the rising senior at Statesboro High School doesn’t spend his time rescuing damsels in distress or battling “the dark side”. While fencing is descended from the sword fights of old, it has evolved into a modern sport with national rankings, electronic scoring equipment, and Olympic-level tournaments. It takes as much physical ability as any other athletic competition and is as mentally challenging as a chess game.
Next week, Watson will attend the 2007 Summer National Championships in Miami, Florida. He plans to compete in Division IA Men’s Foil, an event which he qualified for earlier this year when he placed second in the sectional tournament. Foil fencing features two opponents who attempt to score points by hitting each other on the torso with the tip of their weapon. Foil is a fast-paced and competitive sport involving difficult physical maneuvers and intricate strategies. At Nationals, Watson will be competing against 90 of some of the best fencers from across the United States.
    “The fencers are the best in the country, and Nationals is definitely harder than other tournaments mainly because you have to qualify for it,” said Watson, who has been training in preparation for the event.
    “I went to Atlanta for a week to train and fenced with all of the strongest fencers of the division,” said Watson.
    “Fencing is a sport that you can teach to someone in five minutes, but that you have to spend the rest of your life practicing,” he added.
    Watson began fencing in seventh grade when he took the sport for a P.E. credit at CCAT middle school. He fell in love with the mental challenges and individual aspects of foil.
“Fencing gives me an enticing view of a one-on-one duel. I’ve never liked team sports, but if you lose in this it’s your own doing,” said Watson, “Once you begin to understand the sport, everything makes sense tactically. It’s rewarding, it’s really a lot of fun, and you meet a lot of great people.”
Watson now practices with the Georgia Southern University Fencing Club, where he has made many friends. Two of his fellow club members will be accompanying him to Nationals. Stuart Johnson will fence in the Veteran 40-49 Men’s Epee and Benjamin Callahan will compete in the Division III Men’s Saber.
Although the GSU club has several successful fencers, it is quite small when compared with clubs in Atlanta or Augusta. Due largely to the club’s small size, Watson has been without a coach for quite a while. He says that there are challenges posed by coaching himself, but that they haven’t fazed him.
    “It’s a lot harder to critique myself,” said Watson, “but it makes my results that much more rewarding.”
    Watson is now ranked at the top of the scale developed by the United States Fencing Association (USFA) after earning his A rating in April. The USFA scale rates fencers from A to E, with A being the best and E being worst. Most participants never rated higher than an E or D, and Watson says that his new A rating means that his opponents will be less likely to underestimate his ability.    
    The upcoming tournament will be the fifth National event that Watson has competed in. He hopes to improve on his performance last year, when he placed in the top third of the competition. His long-term goals include fencing in a Division I college program after he graduates from Statesboro High School next spring. Watson’s evident love for fencing makes him a promising competitor in the upcoming tournament, and ensures that his is no touch-and-go success.
    “Fencing is a beautiful sport,” said Watson with a smile, “and you don’t have to tackle anyone to get points.”

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