"Fencers of the Corn," they call themselves jokingly, because their home base is the Bluff Grange Hall on Illinois 163 in the middle of farm country.
Really they are the Millstadt Venture Crew led by Pearce Wilson, a former college fencer and a fencing enthusiast. On Monday and Wednesday nights, anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen kids gather and practice the ancient sport of fencing.
Some use their own equipment hauled in large sports bags with wheels. Others use club equipment kept at the hall.
All are enthusiastic about a sport that a lot of people have never tried.
Wilson said he was leading a Venturing crew, an outgrowth of Boy Scouts for high school age kids, a few years ago when the kids became bored with some of the activities.
"I told them I could show them some stuff about fencing," he said. "It has taken off from there."
Bluff Grange has given the enterprise its blessing, allowing the kids to use their hall where an aluminum strip, or piste, (a fencing play area) takes up one side of the hall. The club also has marked with tape another strip on the other side of the hall.
A strip can be 1.5 meters to 2 meters wide and must be 14 meters long, Wilson said. The group is the only club around with an actual aluminum Olympic style strip, he said.
Fencers use either foil, epee or saber in competition. Each weapon has different tactics and different methods of scoring. An epee and foil each has an electronic tip for scoring. The saber also can score with the side of the blade.
Fencers have a lot of protective equipment, including a metallic vest which can be hooked to a scoring machine, and masks. Although some might wonder about giving kids swords, there is little danger, Wilson said. Statistics show the sport is on a par with high school golf as far as injuries.
The group has benefited from donations of money and equipment from the Grange and other fencing clubs in the area. The group sponsors local tournaments so they will have competition. They also go to regional and national tournaments when members can.
Those kinds of competitions are where Emma Groom, 15, of Smithton, and Corey Kilgallon, 15, of Millstadt earned their national ratings. The two young women are in the E classification. The ratings go up to A. After that, fencers move into national rankings where they can qualify for international competitions.
"They can't even go to the Olympics until they are 17, but that gives them plenty of time to work their way up the rankings," Wilson said.
Arryn Groom, mother of Emma, was full of praise for Wilson and his program.
"He really makes it fun," she said. "He creates a great mentoring situation and the kids love him."
"It doesn't look like much but it's a terrific workout. When the kids take off the masks you can see the exertion in their faces."
For more information you can call Wilson at 314-974-3078 or email him at: email@example.com
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