BY TINA PAPPAS
The Passaic Valley High School Board of Education decided to continue its fencing program for its upcoming school year after several dozen attendees voiced concerns to board members against eliminating it. News about the proposed cut stemmed from the board’s June 25, which brought many supporters of the program to the board meeting during public comment with impassioned pleas to keep it on.
Current high school fencers, former fencers, and future fencers, including many parents, touted the program’s importance for a variety of reasons. Those who spoke publicly emphasized its value as being one of the few sports which encompasses all student abilities, particularly those with special needs. Some praised the sport for encouraging many to enroll in college after they graduate high school.
Nancy Ortiz, president of the Parents Fencing Association, and mother of a PV graduate who had fenced, said she
had addressed the rationale by one board member via email who felt the program hadn’t produced a win collectively as a team as one reason for the proposed cut. Ortiz responded that although it had not sustained a team win for the high school, many students are positively affected individually by the high school’s fencing program.
“Every year, multiple fencers receive scholarships for colleges for fencing,” said Ortiz, adding that the association was willing to pick up three line items totaling $5,155 to offset the fencing budget of $21,090, bringing it down to $15,004. Additionally, she added that the coach’s salary could be waived further bringing the operating budget for fencing down to roughly $9,000.
Ortiz further stated that those who run the fencing program were willing to do whatever it takes to allow the high school to keep it on.
“Keeping this program is important not only for our able students but for our special needs students because this scholarship money is really important,” she added. Ortiz also thanked those who came in attendance to speak out on behalf of the program.
Vince Paragano, head fencing coach for Drew University, who is also a former high school fencing coach and board member in Somerset County, said that one of the goals of the fencing program was to help raise college enrollment after he helped implement a fencing team at Bernards High School, where he said he took the fencing team to a state championship within four years, He also implemented a program at Governor Livingston High School.
“I know both sides of this equation and those players are still very appealing at the college level,” he explained. “In fact, I have two of your players on my team now and I hope to get more in the future.”
Paragano also shared information on statistics that showed fencing as having the lowest incident of injury. Additionally, he noted that one quarter of all high school fencers wind up fencing at the college level. For every 220 soccer players in high school, only one goes on to play in college.
“While you’re looking at the immediate dollars in cutting a program, the long-term effect of having that program and the upside is there,” he stated,. “Simply tweak so that it survives.”
Jo-Anne Mitchell, former Woodland Park Board of Education member who served on the board for ten years, also spoke in favor of the program. Mitchell is the mother to two PV graduates who had fenced in the program, including her youngest who currently attends PV and fences in the program. She said the program has made a special impact on her older son who was a special needs student.
“He played one day of T-ball, the only sport he ever played until he got here and he fenced. He excelled at it,” she said. “Fencing is the only sport that I know that is inclusive of all children, the advanced placement students, the special needs students and everybody in between. Everyone participates in the sport. There is a camaraderie like no other sport or club. It teaches these students life lessons and especially acceptance of people.”
Mitchell also pointed out that although she understood budget decisions that need to be made by the board for the upcoming school, she noted that the amount to run the program was nominal, amounting to the health benefits of a teacher for the school year.
“To disappoint that many students, especially younger siblings who come to the matches and watch their older siblings. please reconsider.”