Hook them while they’re young.

That’s part of the aim behind Montclair High School’s Middle School Fencing Clinic. Hosted at Lilov Fencing Academy in Cedar Grove, the class is meant as both an introduction to the sport of fencing, as well as an opportunity for the MHS Fencing team to get experience teaching and helping younger athletes.

That’s part of the aim behind Montclair High School’s Middle School Fencing Clinic. Hosted at Lilov Fencing Academy in Cedar Grove, the class is meant as both an introduction to the sport of fencing, as well as an opportunity for the MHS Fencing team to get experience teaching and helping younger athletes.

“Part of it is a leadership program for us and the high school fencers,” coach Edward Chang said after the first class. “To get them familiarized with not just fencing themselves, but also leading other people, leading younger students in fencing.”

This is only Chang’s first year, but the Mounties have a pretty long tradition of offering this class, something the coach feels is pretty unique to Montclair.

“I used to coach for another school, and we didn’t have this kind of outreach,” Chang said. “When I was brought on to coach Montclair, it was proposed that I could do it or not, but I thought it was really important that we have the class.”

Chang wasn’t sure of the numbers, but more than a few kids from the middle school program have moved on to fencing for the Mounties in high school. Freshman sabre fencer Grace Van Atta started out in the middle school program, for example. Van Atta was one of the student-instructors on Wednesday and had just competed in the North American Cup in Cleveland.

Further, Chang said, a lot of kids taking the class had done so during the fall, and others are eighth-graders interested in the sport for next year when they are high school freshmen.

The class, which began on March 15 and runs until May 10, begins with some basic stretching and calisthenics. During the first week’s class, the high schooler team demonstrated each of the three disciplines — foil, sabre and epee — while the coaches explained the basics of what counts as a “touch” for each style of fencing, how the judge decides who wins a point and which fencer gets to move forward and which cannot.

Each middle schooler was given a chance to choose a sword they want to learn with, and by the second week the class will have the equipment for more hands-on training.

Footwork is a critical for a fencer, so much of the first lesson was spent learning how to advance and retreat, as well as lunge. Each high school fencer paired off with a middle schooler as they practiced moving forward and backward, sometimes with single steps and sometimes with more than one.

The kids laughed and joked as they did so, sharing an easy camaraderie with their older counterparts, who also gave them instruction in form and technique.

Eventually, the class will get to fence against one another and get a taste of what actual competition is like, but for now, class is about having fun with the basics.

To that end, the class ended with a variation on “Simon Says” as both high school and middle school kids tried to follow one of the coaches as he instructed them how many steps to take and when to lunge.

For a sport like fencing, being able to attract new athletes is critical to continually building a winning program.

“This isn’t something a lot of high schools do because the coaches all have other jobs so it’s hard to find the time,” Chang said, “but this kind of outreach is something which is very important to high school programs, to get kids in as early as possible and get them familiarized with the sport.”

The move to Lilov Fencing Academy was also a way to make kids aware of options they have to train.

“We don’t necessarily have the time to go one on one with [the middle schoolers],”Chang said. “But if parents are familiar with the clubs in the area, they can continue the training with a little more focus on each student.

“We just want to build a sense of the sport in the area.”

While some of the middle schoolers in this class have some experience with fencing, most don’t. The middle school program is a great opportunity for those kids to be exposed to a new and unique sport, while the high school team gets a chance to share something they love.

And if a few of the former group become members of the latter, so much the better for all involved.