3 Baldwin students find friendship, competition in fencing

Senior Payton Fleszar and sophomore Rachael Bonneau are both members of BHS’s fencing club.

Seth Franco, Staff Writer

Senior Ben Opferman owes his existence, in a way, to fencing.

“My (parents) used to do fencing at IUP – that’s how my parents actually met. Both of my parents did fencing and still practice to this day,” Opferman said.

Although Baldwin High School does not have a fencing team, several Baldwin students participate on the fencing team at Bethel Park High School, where it is a club sport.

Senior Payton Fleszar discovered fencing when she was looking for tennis lessons in Bethel Park, but couldn’t find any. Although her involvement in the sport was unlikely, she said she was glad to have stumbled across the sport. She has competed for six years.

Similarly, sophomore Rachael Bonneau stumbled across fencing when looking with her mother for summer activities. She has enjoyed the sport ever since and has played it for three years.

For Fleszar, Opferman, and Bonneau, the fencing club meets were the first time they had met each other. They also have been able to meet people from other schools who share their interest in fencing.

“It definitely opens up a lot of new opportunities to make friends outside of people from Baldwin,” Bonneau said. “One of my best friends who goes to Bethel is someone I met through fencing. I met Ben and Payton through fencing. I’ve made a lot of new friends across a lot of age groups.”

Opferman, who has been competing on a regular basis for three years, described the atmosphere of fencing as fairly relaxed and respectful.

“There are fewer team rivalries in fencing. The community is more friendly compared to a lot of other sports,” Opferman said.

Participating in fencing matches requires a set of armor and additional equipment to ensure protection. However, the sport itself is not very dangerous. The point scoring system is also relatively simple when compared to other popular sports.

The students have differing visions of how they will continue to fence after high school, though they would all like to continue participating in the sport.

Opferman plans to participate in IUP’s fencing program as his parents did. Fleszar wants to continue and perhaps become a fencing coach after high school. Bonneau wants to continue fencing in college but will have to see what programs are available wherever she eventually decides to go to college.

Opferman had advice for other students who may be interested in trying fencing.

“If you want to get involved, they’re eager to get more people, so going to a competition and asking the people there will help get you started,” Opferman said. “The first set of gear is a steep investment, so it’s best to practice with borrowed gear first.”