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By Alan Ridley

Try fencing.  Other sports are pointless.”

August 8, 2018 (St. Louis) - Ten athletes from East County’s LionHeart Fencing Academy took part in the United States National Fencing Championship held in St. Louis, Mo. from June 28 – July 7.

More than 4,000 competitors from throughout the nation participated in the largest fencing event in the world where the best fencers in the United States vied for gold.   National Champions were crowned in age groups from ages 8 to 80 with 60 titles in all three fencing disciplines (epee, foil and saber) for both men and women.

The tournament featured 2020 and 2024 Olympic hopefuls competing in what is known as “The July Challenge” – the largest fencing tournament in the world. A tournament open to athletes from around the globe, the July Challenge includes the National Championships and is the final competition held in the United States before Team USA leaves to compete in the 2018 Senior World Championships this year in Wuxi, China.

It also included Youth, Junior and Veteran events for those over 40, and LionHeart Academy from El Cajon sent eleven athletes to the event.

San Diego has a thriving fencing community, with seven full times fencing facilities in the county and an NCAA Men’s and Women’s fencing team at UCSD.

Maestro Stuart Lee is a former head coach of that program and is now East County’s only certified fencing master.  As the owner of LionHeart Academy, he oversees the Jr. Olympic training program at LionHeart and personally trains up-and-coming athletes there.  When asked about it, Maestro Lee responded “Just making it to the July Challenge is an accomplishment for local athletes – there is a selection process at both the local and regional level and only a limited number of fencers go from each area.  If and when you reach The July Challenge, you’re really fencing against the best in the nation and many of the best in the world.”

Spencer Burke, a 7th grade student at Magnolia Science Academy, had some great results.  Two years ago, at the July Challenge in Dallas, Spencer placed 2nd in the nation in both foil and epee in Youth 10 age group competition.  This year he was fencing as a 12-year-old and despite an injury sustained on the second day of his events, he placed 10th in Youth 12 Epee, 16th in Youth 12 foil, and 16th in Youth 14 foil.  

While he may be disappointed that he didn’t get on the podium, Maestro Lee is very proud of him.  The difference in ability at that level is microscopic and it mostly comes down to heart.  All the kids who make it to the final 32 have brilliant minds, lighting reflexes and are trained to a razors edge.  Spencer strained a muscle in his back in the epee event or he might have won it.  The foil event for 12-year-olds was the next day and flared up about half way in.  He’s motivated and has a great group of athletes in the club and the city who always push him.  We’re making plans for next year!”  Spencer’s dream is to fence for an NCAA program and perhaps represent the United States in World Cup competition.  LionHeart Academy runs Junior Olympic development programs in both fencing and archery and is located on Cuyamaca Street in El Cajon.

Photo, right: Maestro Lee and Spencer Burke at the National Championships in St Louis

World Fencing Championship results are just in.   The United States placed third in the world overall behind Italy and South Korea.    USA placed first in the world in women’s team epee and women’s team foil.    Congratulations USA women fencers!