While most Pinecrest Academy athletes spend the fall and winter months training on fields and in gyms, six Paladins instead opt for a second floor science classroom.
It is there they are taught the art of fencing: a sport that receives little attention in the southern U.S., but resonates with these teenagers and their two coaches, Dr. Morris and Ms. Donlon, both of whom fenced at the collegiate level.
After pushing lab tables to the edge of the room, the fencers have just enough space to practice their craft. Each receives individual time from the instructors as they are taught new techniques—from finishing moves to defensive maneuvers to proper footwork.
One-on-one duals are heavily scrutinized and stopped frequently when teaching moments arise. The choppy ebb and flow to the practices is one of the biggest differences between fencing and the likes of traditional sports.
And that’s necessary. Fencing requires intelligence more than most sports, as the ability to out-think one’s opponent often trumps physical ability.
"It takes so much skill," said sophomore Josiah Jones, who was recruited to the team last season. "Unlike most sports, you have to be smart to be good."
Jones, along with Nicole Chai, Sophie Turner, Sophia Skokanic, Martin Wehner and Jan Rodriguez comprise Pinecrest’s current team. They’re one of the smaller squads in the state, but that doesn’t keep them from matching up with teams more than 10 times their size.
Skokanic, a senior, is among the best fencers in Georgia. Her older brother Rafael started Pinecrest’s club two years ago, gathering the troops after honing his skills at an Olympic Fencing club.
Upon hearing about other students’ experiences in the Georgia High School Fencing League, the elder Skokanic, along with help from the coaches, did the legwork to get the Paladins admitted into the GHSFL, where they now participate every few weeks.
"I really enjoy [the competitions]," said Sophia Skokanic. "You get to go against friends from other schools and get to hang out with them. It’s a lot of fun."
Fencing’s appeal may be hard to understand from afar, but up close it makes a lot of sense. Its unique nature draws in students who may not watch ESPN but still possess a competitive drive.
Some enjoyed playfully sword fighting growing up and use fencing to channel that hobby into something more; others like to turn on films such as Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and recognize the moves used by Viggo Mortensen and Alec Guinness.
But the common denominator here is individuality. Fencers are always on an island, and at the end of the day, each student is solely responsible for his or her result. This makes achievements that much more special, and those hours working on the tiniest of details worth the trouble.
"I’ve been interested in fencing for a while," said Chai. "So I really wanted to join and it was so worth it."
"It’s something you don’t get to do every day," Jones said. "It’s very different and that’s part of what makes it great."