Desert Fencing Academy 10th Anniversary
College of the Desert Fencing Coach Leslie Taft used to ponder how to get local youngsters involved in fencing. They were too young to attend COD and, since she was the only fencing coach in the Coachella Valley, she eventually came to the conclusion that she had to open an independent fencing school. It wasn’t just that the sport was challenging and fun, but it was also a great skill for getting athletic scholarships in elite colleges. So she rented a small space on Town Center Way in Palm Desert and opened the Desert Fencing Academy on February 24, 2003. Last year she relocated to a larger space on Dinah Shore, and will probably outgrow that in a couple of years.
“We have 55 fencers at DFA,” reports coach. “Our fencers range in age from 9 to 80. Our youngest competing fencer is 13 year old Chandler Pollett, an eighth grader at Sacred Heart School, and our oldest competitive fencer is 72 year old Costa Nichols.” Nichols competed in this year’s Summer National Championship and won the bronze medal in the 70-79 age group.
In all, five fencers have qualified for the February 2013 Junior Olympics. Palm Desert High School students Cory Hutchinson (freshman), John Phillips (junior), and Sabrina Fletcher (sophomore) qualified in the saber event, and Xavier College Prep junior Alex Okomoto and La Quinta High School junior Ellis DeVoe qualified for the epee event.
In its ten years of training fencers, Desert Fencing Academy has developed 12 Junior Olympians and, at the 2012 July Summer National Fencing Championships in Anaheim, Phillips, Okomoto and DeVoe, with a few other DFA fencers, competed. “Fencing is a sport that lends itself to all age groups,” notes Taft. “The majority of our fencers are middle and high school students, but we have many adults ranging in age from 30 to 70.”
So what does it take to become a successful competitive fencer? “Lots of dedication and hard work,” says Taft, who is a champion saber and epee fencer with State, National and three World Cup championships. All of DFA’s top competitive fencers are at the club three days a week for lessons and sparring.
Many of the fencers have gone on to have collegiate fencing careers. “Most of the high school fencers have gone on to colleges and universities that have NCAA fencing teams”, said coach Taft. “I have students that have gone on to Air Force Academy, Cornell, Stanford and Vassar fencing teams.”
Desert Fencing Academy will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in a couple of months and the coach is considering an open house in February so that anyone who’s curious about fencing can make an appointment and come in for a free lesson and give the sport a try. “That would be a fun touché!,” she said with a wink.
Desert Fencing Academy is at 73-760 Dinah Shore Drive, Ste. D, Palm Desert. Information: 760-218-1343 and www.desertfencingacademy.com