By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
Jeffery Kellish seems like most eighth-grade boys: a little shy around adults, kind of quiet. But put a sword in his hand and he becomes calculating, confident and aggressive.
Jeffery, a student at Bishop Grimes Prep, has earned a spot at the U.S. Fencing Association Summer Nationals in Reno, Nev., this July. In only three years in the sport, Jeffery has already been to the Empire State Games, the Junior Olympics and the North American Cup.
“He’s one of my best students,” said coach Lubomir Kalpakchiev. “He’s a very good kid, very polite. And he always does what I say.”
Jeffery first considered fencing when Kalpakchiev gave a demonstration at one of Jeffery’s Cub Scout meetings. He was hooked immediately and asked his mom if he could take lessons.
“I told him he had to get good grades and he could try it,” said Jeffery’s mother Linda.
Now, Jeffery maintains a place in the National Honor Society and fences four or five nights a week. He also cross trains with jogging and weights. When he has to go away for competitions, teachers provide Jeffery with work to do on the road so he won’t fall behind the other students.
“It’s really kind of a grueling schedule,” Linda said, “but he loves it. And I can see a huge difference in him between when he fences and when he doesn’t.”
Fencing requires both a mental and physical focus that Jeffery said he really likes.
“When you’re fencing, it’s pretty much like chess at 300 miles an hour. You have to be thinking about the next move way before you’re going to do it,” he said.
Fencing requires strength, efficient movement and tactical thinking. Fencers have to guess what their opponents will do next and plan their reaction with split-second timing.
The sport takes place on a narrow strip, called a piste, which measures about 46 feet long by six feet wide. Retreating off the end of the piste with both feet results in points (or a “touch”) for the opponent. Stepping off it with one foot stops the fencing.
There are three different types of swords used in fencing, and each sword has a different target area. The foil, which is light and used in a thrusting motion, targets the torso. The sabre, which is light and can be used in a cutting and thrusting motion, targets the body above the waist. The épée, which Jeffery prefers, is a heavier sword which is used in a thrusting motion and can target the entire body. He uses a pistol grip épée, which has a handle that contours to one’s hand the way a pistol would.
Jeffery’s sword has a button on the end of it which is connected to a wire that runs down the length of the blade. When the tip of the sword is pressed into an opponent with enough pressure to push the button down, the wire carries a signal which lights up a box located near the opponents. Points are awarded based on how many “touches” a fencer gets when the light box registers contact.
But although the weapons used rely on pressure rather than actually drawing blood, the equipment helps keep Jeffery from being injured. He wears a special mask over his face and his jacket has a kevlar lining which protects him from being stabbed by an opponent’s sword should the tip accidentally snap off and become sharp.
Jeffery said he’s a little bit nervous about the Summer Nationals in Reno, but he’s looking forward to it. The tournament draws hundreds of fencers from around the country who will compete simultaneously. “When you go there they have, like, 200 pistes,” said Coach Kalpakchiev. “So think of an area as big as the dome, it’s like that.”
Right now, though, Jeffery’s focused on his next tournament, an outdoor event with over 60 competitors in Fort Ticonderoga. He said he’s not sure whether it’s the hard work he’s put in or a natural talent for fencing that’s brought him this far, but he’s glad he’s doing so well. “I’m proud of the work I’ve done,” he said.
Thomas DeSantis, the assistant principal at Bishop Grimes, said Jeffery is a good student who has worked hard to do so well both in school and in fencing.
“He’s a credit to himself, to his family and to the school,” DeSantis said, “and we really wish him a lot of success.”