“En garde” echoes throughout the room while a group of children from around New York City gather to take in a sport that many of us only get to see once every four years: fencing. Two competitors are sparring in the center. They are going back and forth with lunges and attacks, parries and disengages. The scene is similar to what you would see in fencing classes across the country: feet shuffling, metal blades clinking and buzzers going off once contact is made to give a point to the victor. But this room isn’t like any fencing program you have seen before. It’s full of predominantly African-American and Latino youngsters from the ages of 8 to 18 watching the last two U.S. Olympic medalists, Peter Westbrook and Daryl Homer, who also happen to be African-American, show them the sport.
Westbrook took the bronze medal at the 1984 Olympics for individual saber and became the first African-American to medal in the Olympics for fencing. The opportunities provided by that performance led him to create the Peter Westbrook Foundation in 1991, which has introduced more than 4,000 people to the sport of fencing. One of those participants was Homer. The 27-year-old started in the sport about 16 years ago and quickly worked his way through the fencing world, winning medals in the Pan American Championships and World Championships and finally bringing home the first Olympic silver medal in fencing for the United States since 1904.
Homer, ranked No. 2 in the U.S. and No. 11 in the world in saber, has been working along with the foundation to create more opportunities to get African-American and Latino children involved in fencing. The sport has garnered attention as former participants in the foundation have made headway in competition, including Khalil Thompson, who took gold at the 2017 Junior Pan Am Games, and Marcel Merchant.