Huntsville Fencing Club 50th Anniversary
The founders and members
of the Huntsville Fencing Club celebrated their 50th anniversary March 21st,
2013 at the Summit at Redstone Arsenal. The event started with a catered
meal and followed with speakers from the list of honorary guests and members
of the present club.
Donnie Phillips, Emil Luft, Elias Katsaros, Joe
Dabbs, and John Jordan
accept awards for service to Huntsville fencing.
Awards, Presentations, and Artifacts from through
All agreed, it was wonderful evening and helped to ignite a deeper interest
in the historical records and elements of the club. Look for
more to come in our scrapbook section devoted to this event.
History of the Huntsville Fencing Club
In 1963, NASA engineer John Jordan put an ad in the
Marshall Star newspaper, soliciting fencers or people interested in
learning to fence. Very quickly the M.A.R.S. Fencing Club at the Marshall
Space Flight Center on the US Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama
was born. (The Marshall Space Flight Center was established after World War
Two when the US government brought Werner von Braun and his coterie of
German rocket scientists to Huntsville for the purposes of national defense
and space exploration.)
Early club members included John Jordan, Joe Dabbs, and
left-hander Fletcher Kurtz. In 1964 or 1965, Elias Katsaros joined the club,
having just taken a second place in the Greek national championships. All
three weapons were fenced at the M.A.R.S. club, and many members were
three-weapon fencers. From 1963 to 1981, John, Joe, and Elias “usually
qualified in the Alabama Division for the nationals in one or more weapons.
All three attended the 1972 nationals, and Joe and John attended the
nationals again in Hollywood, Florida.”*
By 1971 fencing in Huntsville had grown beyond the
M.A.R.S. club and the Redstone Arsenal. Members established the Huntsville
Fencing Club, which will celebrate its fortieth anniversary in 2011. The
Huntsville Fencing Club often met at Chaffee Elementary School, and
occasionally at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Club presidents
during the 1970s included John A. Jordan (1971), Emil A. Luft (1972), and
Gordon Chan (1972). John Jordan, Joe Dabbs, and Elias Katsaros taught
fencing classes at Grissom High School, Chaffy Elementary School, and
Mountain Gap Middle School. Joe eventually became the fencing instructor at
the University of Alabama in Huntsville College of Continuing Education, and
taught there through the 1980s.
During the 1980s the Huntsville Fencing Club disappeared, leaving Huntsville fencing solely in the hands of a few MARS club fencers who continued to practice on the Redstone Arsenal. In 1989, Kevin Lay,
after a semester of fencing at USC, established a new Huntsville Fencing Club, which met at the Huntsville Community Ballet's old gym next to the Huntsville Library. MARS fencers were invited to join,
and provided a strong foundation of experience.
In the 1990s, the club was run as many fencing clubs are, with a slate of officers elected by members and usually changing every year or two. During this decade the club was roughly two thirds foil
fencers and one third epee fencers, with a number who competed in both. In the early 1990s the club continued to meet at the old Community Ballet gym. In early 1994 the club moved briefly to the old
Family Fitness Center on South Memorial Parkway in Huntsville, and from late 1994 or so to 1997 the club met at the main Intergraph gym and also at the company's aerobics room in building #5 in Madison. In
late 1997 the club moved to the aerobics room at the Huntsville Athletic Club, and has been there ever since.
Club instructors during this period included Elias
Katsaros (epee), Joe Dabbs (saber), and Charlie Bosco (foil). Benerson
Little taught beginning foil and gave foil and epee lessons at the UAH
Fencing Club in the late 1990s, and Skip Watson taught fencing for much of
the decade at the College of Continuing Education at the University of
Alabama at Huntsville. Both programs fed into the HFC. A variety of club
presidents served during the 1990s, including Inez Wilson, Marianne Bosco,
Eric Devlin, Mike Greene, Jerry Hall, Benerson Little, and Brian Parker.
By 1999 club membership had decreased significantly. In
January 2000 the club was reorganized in order to promote stability and
foster the membership necessary to development and sustain fencing skill.
Mike Greene, Benerson Little, and Brian Parker became co-directors, and
Benerson Little became the club’s instructor. The club’s purpose was
redefined as well, in keeping with its origin: to provide a local venue for
recreational and competitive fencers of all levels at the lowest reasonable
cost and free of unnecessary encumbrances; to promote the sport of Olympic
fencing at the recreational and competitive levels; to maintain the
traditions of honorable combat with swords; to encourage the study of
swordplay, past and present; to provide affordable quality beginning
instruction and individual lessons; to minimize the administrative,
logistical, and financial requirements associated with fencing; and,
especially, to encourage an atmosphere of competitive camaraderie.
Much of the present club’s philosophy derives
ultimately from a desire to maintain a club devoted foremost to fencers and
fencing at all levels, a philosophy borrowed both from the M.A.R.S. and
early HFC, and from the New Orleans Fencing Club and some of its Hungarian
forbears. The club remains under this direction today.
In addition to the officers noted above, Geoffrey Babb
serves as secretary-treasurer and Dave Young as armorer. Joe Dabbs has been
designated Fencer Emeritus in honor of his long membership in the Huntsville
Fencing Club, of his many years of fencing and instructing in Huntsville,
and of his swashbuckling spirit and history in general. The club is
fortunate to have a membership that in its entirety is always willing to
lend a hand.
The club hosts four epee tournaments per year: the
Rocket City Open in January-February, the Joe Dabbs Open in March-April, the
La Maupin Open in July-August, and the MARS Musketeers in October-November.
Today, the HFC has roughly fifty members, ranging in
age from twelve to over seventy. Practices on quiet evenings may be as small
as ten or twelve epeeists, while on a busy day twenty-five or more may be
present. The club is well-balanced between recreational fencers and active
competitors, with rated fencers ranging from unclassified to the A level.
Many members compete regularly in local, regional, and North American Cup
tournaments, as well as at US Nationals, in youth, open, and veteran events.
Our members come from all walks of life and professions—including a NASA
rocket scientist or two.
* John Jordan, from his fencing memoir posted on this
of Fencing and the MARS and Huntsville Fencing Clubs