Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fencing Numbers

Lately, I have been concerned about the decline of fencing. By that I mean the number of people fencing. I have been concerned about this in our club; in our state and in our country.

I realize that the economy is bad and people are staying home now that gas prices are high.  Every time I drive to UNC for a lesson and fencing I whence a bit at the cost.

I have talked to people in other local sporting programs and they see similar declines. Though it may not be related in the same way. For example Little League has been in decline for years, but much of that is attributed to kids switching to soccer.

I found that there has been a drop in the sales of sporting equipment over all. I wonder if the graying of America and the demographics of age are playing into these declines?

It is difficult to find information to figure this out.

For example, I believe that I read that this season there was a 2% drop in USFA membership.It was the first decline ever. However, as I think about that, those numbers may reflect a change BEFORE the economy hit the skids. So what will it be next season? Will the Olympics help pull membership back up or will the that be no match for the cost of gas?

I remember reading someplace reliable that in the future sports we consider mainstream in America will decline in favor of more esoteric sports. What could be more so than fencing? Perhaps this prediction was wrong or perhaps not enough time has passed.

I have made predictions before and missed the mark. I studied martial arts for a very long time when I was young. I always thought that as Baby Boomer's aged that the new fitness craze would be Tai Chi. I missed it, it was yoga, ( Though Tai Chi has gained in popularity.) I also thought that with American's constant need for new fitness crazes that some thing like Tai Bo fencing aerobics might develop. I thought the good lower body workout might  appeal to women. ( Note: I don't consider that a sexist statement. I base it on watching women in the gym over a number of years .( Which I might have done in a sexist manner...but that is a whole different ball game and I just can't help it.) I noticed that a majority of women that come to the gym, focus on aerobic training and lower body work outs through machines and free weights.)

I have tried to figure things out concerning what I perceive as a drop in the number of people fencing by looking at statistics. For example, below you will find a chart I pulled off of the Discussion Boards. It is info from the USFA. It is hard to make out what is useful because you don't really know what it means. I am assuming that this reflects information on where fencers are located/based and not Divisional info. I base that on New Jersey figures. I know that New Jersey is not one big Division, but has been broken down into smaller more manageable Divisions. See below:

New Jersey 1769
New England 1300
Southern Calif. 759
Northern Calif. 619
Metropolitan, Nyc 600
Illinois 589
Long Island 573
Virginia 563
Gulf Coast Texas 493
Connecticut 461
Georgia 458
North Carolina 454
Colorado 419
Central Calif. 412
Michigan 402
Northeast 402
Western Washington 388
Oregon 385
Philadelphia 337
North Texas 331
South Texas 326
Hudson-Berkshire 315
Indiana 293
San Diego, Calif. 281
Nevada 266
Maryland 262
Northern Ohio 260
Western Pennsylvania 259
Gold Coast Florida 251
Westchester-Rockland 241
Capitol 239
Central Florida 237
Arizona 229
Columbus, Ohio 193
Gateway Florida 189
Utah - South Idaho 189
South Carolina 179
Minnesota 172
Mountain Valley, Ca 171
Kansas 168
Tennessee 163
Western New York 156
Kentucky 147
Ark-la-miss 145
St. Louis, Missouri 139
Orange Coast, Calif. 137
Green Mountain 123
Alabama 121
South Jersey 119
Wisconsin 117
New Mexico 110
Central Penn 107
Louisiana 95
Oklahoma 94
Southwest Ohio 93
San Bernardino, Ca 91
Plains, Texas 90
Inland Empire 87
Iowa 85
Hawaii 79
Harrisburg 72
Northeast Pennsylvania 69
Alaska 64
Nebraska-S. Dakota 62
Border Texas 55
North Coast, Ca 41
Wyoming 33
National 32
Mexico 10
Puerto Rico 4
France 1
Norway 1
Poland 1
Republic Of Georgia 1
Ukraine 1

I am still pondering why more people don't fence and I guess I will be the rest of my life.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think I have any real desire to see it become TO mainstream. I think that it not being main stream is part of the charm.

Every time I worry about not enough people being interested in fencing of late, I see this face I saw about two weeks ago. I was in Chapel Hill and walking from my parking space. I was carrying a goodly load of fencing equipment and one of my French grip epees would not fit in a two weapon bag so I was carrying it and my mask out of the bag.There is no place to park in Chapel Hill and sometimes on these long walks to the gym, I think about making a base camp and going for the summit in the morning. But...I digress.
As I walked I passed a car parked on the side of street. A boy around eight or nine pressed his face against the passenger side window and his eyes got big as saucers he focused on " Mr. Pointy". I could feel it. I could hear it in my mind as I walked past. I could hear him thinking....."COOL!!!!...I want one!.. Can I hold it?...Pleeeease!!!!!".

There are kids of all ages out there that would love to be introduced to fencing. How do we arrange for them to meet?


fencerkath said...

I didn't suggest fencing to my kids. although they were interested, because I assumed it would be terribly expensive and that fencing clubs would be hard to find.  I also thought it would be posh and unfriendly.

It was only when I discovered a two-hour taster session at the local leisure centre that I enrolled my two.  My daughter, who had some aptitude, was too busy with ballet and drama to pursue fencing but my son asked if he could start a beginners' session.  It was much cheaper than I'd expected - I think the beginners' course is now £50 per term including coaching, coaching materials and loan of kit and that gives people time to save for kit if they want to continue (club fees for one night a week are £35 per term - three terms a year).  I don't know how that compares with U.S. clubs but here it compares pretty well with cheap mainstream sports like swimming and is much cheaper than ballet.  I spent about three years watching my son fence and wishing I could have a go, but I was convinced I couldn't do it until a friend pointed out that I could simply fence as well as I could - I didn't have to be a star and no-one would expect brilliance as I approached 50.  So I thought I'd do a term, just to see what it was like, and set myself the aim of achieving a Grade 1 Foil certificate.  Of course, once I'd started, I was hooked.

However, it's sad to meet people who have done some fencing and been unable to continue because of the cost.  Jon Willis, who is Britain's top epeeist, was helped in his teens by a coach who took him on free of charge when his dad was unemployed.  I hope that does something to change the image of fencing as a sport for posh kids at private schools.

I don't know how it works out in the States but taster sessions and afforable club fees are vital, combined with an attitude that welcomes fencers of all levels of ability and aptitude.  (Not that Britain's a great fencing natio

fencerkath said...

I've been trying to find out statistics for fencing in the U.K.  It's reckoned that there are about 10,000 fencers and more than 400 clubs.  I don't know how reliable the statistics are.  Fencers who compete at regional level or above have to join the British Fencing Association, but I'm not a member.  Another indication might be that the wider Nottingham area has a population of about 660,000 and seven fencing clubs, though one of these is restricted to members of Nottingham University.  That means it's possible to set up friendlies between clubs at various ability levels.  Distances aren't such a problem in urban areas though in rural areas it can be hard to find a nearby club, particularly a club offering a particular weapon.  One of our members (a veteran) comes from rural Lincolnshire every fortnight to fence sabre, which isn't available at her local club.  I think she reckons that's a 90-mile round trip (a very long way in British terms - I think our roads are narrower and more crowded than yours).