Club fencing aims for NCAA status with Olympic-level coach at the helm
It’s not often that student-athletes at Emory University have the opportunity to learn from a coach with five national championships, four appearances on the US national team, and a stint as an Olympic substitute at his. active. Terrence Lasker, who was hired by the University in the fall of 2021, has all of this and more to offer Emory Athletics. The only problem? Emory does not have an NCAA sanctioned team in Lasker’s area of expertise: fencing.
Emory is not unique in this sense, because 46 colleges have a university-level fencing team. Only 16 of them compete at the Division III level, and only two of those schools – Brandeis University (Mass.) And New York University – are part of the United Athletic Association (UAA) conference. Although 106 colleges, including Emory, have club fencing teams, very few have coaches who can compete with Lasker.
Lasker started working with the Emory club’s fencing team in the spring of 2021 when club president Bonnie Schipper (22G, 22L) contacted him looking for training facilities and a high level mentoring.
“As a student-run club sport, we’ve never had a coach,” said Schipper. “Thinking about wanting the club to become a little more structured and serious at Emory, and also for our students to receive better quality education and to be competitive, we decided to continue coaching Terrence.”
Lasker, who was crowned 2017 Development Coach of the Year by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, comes at a time when club fencing at Emory is more popular than ever. The club has around 100 members, a number that Schipper says represents a three-fold increase in roster size and consistent participation. The increased involvement also led to greater success, as some novice fencers won medals in their first competitions.
“We have now established ourselves as a very strong presence in the Atlanta fencing community among other varsity clubs,” said Schipper. “I often get messages from teams like Clemson University (SC), Georgia Tech and [the University of Georgia] asking us to come and participate in their events.
An elite coach, growing interest, and promising success: All the pieces are in place for Emory to create an NCAA fencing team, a proposal Lasker and Schipper plan to submit to the athletic director. Keiko Prize, which happened to Emory last November. Although Lasker spoke with the previous administration about creating an official fencing team, the idea never saw the light of day. Far from being discouraged, Lasker continues to seize the opportunity for Emory to make history by fielding the NCAA’s first fencing team in Georgia.
“One of my reasons for getting involved is that I would like to have a program [at Emory]”said Lasker.” Every year we see a number of athletes… who would probably love to stay in Georgia, but there is no NCAA program for them. If they are a stronger fencer, there is no NCAA program for them. there isn’t much of an opportunity for them to stay and compete at the national college level.
Lasker said Emory can capitalize on his unique combination of geography and academic rigor during the recruiting process. About a third of schools that have NCAA fencing teams are considered very selective, the vast majority being in the northeast region.
“[Fencing] is a sport that has a very, very strong presence among students who often go to private schools and can take private lessons and are very strong academically, ”said Schipper. “[Emory becomes] a little more attractive to those kind of pupils who have done very well in school and who are able to learn fencing.
As Schipper – who played varsity softball at Columbia University (NY) – pointed out, some athletes are exceptional academics but fear the Division I Ivy League experience. On the other hand, while he was an assistant coach at Ohio State University, Lasker saw rookies turn down his program in favor of a school with more reputable academics. There’s a market for a school like Emory, and Lasker is confident Emory could put together a squad that will vie for the national titles, especially by recruiting from the south.
“[Emory would] recruiting against Harvard, Yale, a lot of the best institutions, and I think that’s where Emory wants to be, ”Lasker said. “I think this kind of program is really up to the task [Emory’s] alleyway, and they have the local talent to start a program from a pretty good position.
Based on his previous dialogues with the sports administration, Lasker cited finances as the biggest obstacle to building a varsity fencing team at Emory. Between booking facilities, renting coaches and purchasing equipment, the costs add up quickly. If the fencing team competed at the national level, Lasker also believes it has the potential to compete in Divisions I or II, which could also provide scholarship funds. Despite the financial commitment, other peer institutions, such as Denison University (Ohio) and University of the Delaware Valley (Penn.), Have fielded fencing teams in recent years.
While naming the head coach is ultimately the athletic department’s decision, Schipper pleaded for Lasker, saying the club’s fencing team would wholeheartedly support his hiring.
“Some [teams], when they hear that we are working with Terrence, are absolutely terrified of us, ”said Schipper. “The other experienced clubs and coaches in the area are ready to work with us now that we have Terrence. They take us a little more seriously.
For Lasker and Schipper, the timing is perfect. At the end of the Tokyo Olympics from which the United States came out with two fencing medals, sport is gaining momentum at Emory. Lasker’s experience puts Emory in a position not only to win games, but also to become a dominant force and leader in NCAA fencing. Meanwhile, the top student-athletes slowly walk away, lining Emory’s trophy crates peer institutions.
“We are losing some really, really strong athletes who are not only doing well at home but also very well globally,” said Lasker. “A little over a decade ago we had athletes in Georgia winning Olympic medals in fencing… These photos should be on Emory’s wall instead of Yale’s, instead of Columbia’s. “