BPFC recruits fencers EXCLUSIVELY from among the student body of Bethel Park Senior High School and from Independence Middle School. At BPFC we instruct fencers in the classical French method using French style techniques and weapons. Fencers are taught not only the techniques and rules of the sport, but also its strategy, traditions, and historical origins. Our philosophy is based upon discipline, the team concept, and a belief that success is achieved by mastering the fundamental techniques of the sport through repetition, rather than simply trying to learn a large number of flashy athletic moves and applying them haphazardly. We work hard at drilling and bouting, but we also have a good deal of , and the fencing team is one of the most close-knit groups in the entire school.
We practice on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6:45-9 PM from November through May in the gymnasium at Washngton Elementary School. Typical practices include stretching and warm-up activities, drilling, strategic theory, bouting, footwork, and conditioning. Unlike competitions, all BPFC practices are closed to spectators in order to provide a training environment that is free of distractions. The Bethel Park team trains exclusively with the foil, although we will experiment with other weapons on occasion during the off-season. The club also provides free fencing demonstrations upon request during the off-season as a service to the community.
Anyone who wishes to obtain more information about the Bethel Park Fencing Club, or thinks that they might want to join the team, should contact Coach Tobias.
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The origin of the Bethel Park Fencing Club can be traced back to 1995. It was then that head coach Christopher Tobias, a German teacher and football coach who was assigned to the Foreign Language department of Independence Middle School, met assistant coach Kristen Rylander, who at that time was teaching at Memorial Elementary School, at a training seminar for new teachers. During the course of the seminar the two discovered that they shared a love of the sport of fencing and were both veterans of fencing competition. They discussed the possibility of founding a fencing club for Bethel Park students.
The following year Mr. Tobias received a transfer to Bethel Park Senior High School. Realizing that this provided an opportunity to explore the prospect of founding a high school fencing club, he again contacted Ms. Rylander, and the two teachers obtained permission from the high school administration to pilot the program. In January of 1997 the Bethel Park Fencing Club was born.
The club's first year was anything but spectacular. The eleven charter members had to practice wherever space could be found, and the only equipment that was available, some very old and somewhat obsolete Santelli jackets, masks and French grip foils, had to be borrowed from the high school's Physical Education department. The first practices were held after school in the school cafeteria and in the lobby of BPHS Building #3. Eventually the fencers were permitted to use one of the high school's gymnasiums for practice, but they were quickly evicted in favor of the middle school's volleyball team! Shortly thereafter the club moved its after school practices to the gym at Memorial Elementary School. It would practice there for the remainder of the season.
It was during that first season that the coaches decided to transform the club into a competitive team. Ms. Rylander introduced Mr. Tobias to Mike Kijowski, a friend of hers who had fenced competitively in college. Mr. Kijowski joined the coaching staff, and combined his technical knowledge of the French style of foil fencing with the organization and motivational techniques that Mr. Tobias had acquired as a result of his experience as a football coach. The new team responded well to its new, intense training regimen. On May 21, 1997 the Bethel Park Fencing Team hosted Upper St. Clair in its first interscholastic match. Although the result was a disappointing 9-2 defeat, the BP fencers had taken another step towards becoming a legitimate part of Bethel Park High School athletics.
Shortly before the start of the 1998 season, Bethel Park joined the fencing clubs from Oakland Catholic and Pine-Richland in forming what was to become a new high school fencing league, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Fencing Association. Newly formed teams from Allderdice, Mt. Lebanon and North Hills were recruited to join the league, which began operation in March of that year. The new league gave the BP fencers a good reason to train (as well as raise money to upgrade their equipment), and the team grew in size to 16 members. With Mr. Tobias now officially serving as their head coach, the Bethel Park boys' and girls' fencing teams entered PIFA competition on March 22, 1998. The boys' team went on to post a respectable yet unremarkable 5-7 record, but the girls' team showed exceptional promise almost immediately. Trailing Allderdice 4-2 in their inaugural match, the BP girls staged an amazing comeback to win the best-of-nine match, 5-4. The girls would never relinquish the momentum gained by this incredible first victory. They went on to finish the regular season 12-0 and capture the section title, and on May 4, 1998 they defeated Oakland Catholic in the inaugural girls' PIFA Championship by the score of 5-1. In addition, the BP girls' captain, Christina Karako, finished the regular season as the top female fencer in the PIFA with a record of 6-2, and on May 9 the BP girls' team captured the PA State Interscholastic Team Foil Championship at the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Fencing Invitational. At season's end, three of Bethel Park's fencers, one boy and two girls, received All-Section honors from the league.
1999 would prove to be an even more successful year for Bethel Park fencing. The team had again increased its roster strength, and now boasted 18 members, many of whom were experienced veterans of the previous two seasons. Both the boys' and girls' teams proved to be very formidable in PIFA competition that season, and both captured section championships. The boys' team finished the regular season at 8-2, and on April 20, 1999 they defeated Winchester-Thurston in the semi-final round of the PIFA Playoffs by the score of 5-4. They then went on to stun previously unbeaten Pine-Richland in the PIFA Championship, 5-1. Inspired by the boys' success, the girls' team, which had finished the regular season 10-0 and earned a bye in the first round of the playoffs, promptly defeated the Pine-Richland girls, 5-0, to capture its second consecutive PIFA Championship. The girls then went on to claim their second straight PA State Invitational team title on May 8. Five fencers (three boys and two girls) from the Bethel Park squad received All-Section honors that season, and no high school fencing team has ever managed to duplicate Bethel Park's 1999 feat of winning the boys' and girls' high school fencing titles in the same year.
The Bethel Park fencing program experienced real adversity for the first time in the year 2000. The success of the previous season did not result in an increase in recruiting, and the team actually decreased in size for the first time since its inception. The boys' team finished the PIFA season with a disappointing 3-7 record and failed to qualify for the playoffs. The girls' team suffered its first losses on the strip and failed to win the section at 7-3, qualifying for the playoffs as a wildcard team instead. In the semi-final round of the girls' PIFA Playoffs, the Bethel Park girls showed they still had plenty of fight in them, upsetting section champion Oakland Catholic, 5-4, to earn their third straight trip to the PIFA Finals. They were not, however, able to overcome a powerful Allderdice squad, and were defeated 5-1 in the PIFA Championship. Despite this disappointment, the girls would bounce back on May 13 at the PA Interscholastic Fencing Invitational, where they captured their third consecutive team title and their captain, Kate Ekmann, won the girls' PA Interscholastic Foil Championship. Ekmann was also the only BP fencer to receive PIFA All-Section honors in 2000.
The squad's roster continued to diminish in size, and at the onset of the 2001 season the team was back to its initial size of 11 fencers. 2001 was a low point for the boys' squad, which won just one match during the regular season and finished last in the league at 1-9. The girls' team, however, finished the season at 8-2 and recaptured the section crown. In the first round of the PIFA Playoffs, the girls defeated Pine-Richland, 5-1. This victory earned the team an unprecedented fourth consecutive trip to the PIFA Championship. Once again, however, the girls' fell short of the title, falling to Oakland Catholic, 5-1. Two members of the girls' team would receive All-Section honors for their efforts.
Feuding over the extent to which private, for-profit fencing clubs should be involved in high school fencing caused unrest in the PIFA following the 2001 season, and in January of 2002 Bethel Park joined Allderdice, North Hills and Upper St. Clair in breaking away from the PIFA to form the Pittsburgh Scholastic Fencing Conference. At this same time, the Bethel Park team experienced a boom in recruiting, due in part to its decision to allow 7th and 8th grade students from Independence Middle School to train with the team. The team, now 25 members strong, would have an outstanding year in the newly formed PSFC. The boys' team finished the season as runners-up at 9-3, just one victory shy of the conference title. The girls' finished the season at 7-1, capturing the conference title, their third interscholastic championship, on April 18, 2002. Robin Lesko, the girls' assistant captain, won the individual conference title as well, posting a 16-4 record. No less than four fencers would be named to the PSFC All-Conference team, including all three of the starters from the girls' squad.
2003 was not a strong recruiting year, and the team's size decreased slightly to 18 members, most of whom were young and inexperienced. What was to have been a rebuilding year, however turned out to be a fairly strong season that may very well have laid the groundwork for many succesful seasons to come. The boys' team, which featured just one returning starter, finished 5-6 in PSFC competition. The girls' team, which also had just one starter returning, finished the PSFC season at 10-2 and just barely lost the conference championship to Allderdice (also 10-2) due to the conference's tiebreaker system. Girls' captain Karen Vaughn captured the individual conference title with a record of 24-3, and three BP fencers were named to the all-conference squad.
The Bethel Park Fencing Team will compete in the Pittsburgh Scholastic Fencing Conference once again this season, and a whole new generation of BP fencers will look to earn its place in the team's history in 2004...