Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The History of La Belle Fencing Club

The first thing most people say when they hear about our fencing club is, “I didn’t know we had that in Midland.”  While fencing isn’t the most common sport in these parts, the Permian Basin is surrounded by it.  There are clubs in El Paso, Amarillo, Lubbock , Austin, DFW, San Antonio, etc.  It’s a sport enjoyed by people of all ages, from kids to the 70+ crowd.  It’s often misunderstood and confused with reenactment swordplay.  Olympic  fencing is a sport.  So how did it wind up in Midland?
An article appeared in the January 10, 1983 Midland Reporter-Telegram that first announced La Belle Fencing Club’s existence.  Robert Walter, Gilbert Garcia, Mike Husband and Orlando Temple were the first members.  Robert was an import to Midland.  He had fenced in college and joined Gilbert’s fencing class at Midland College.  Mike was  the Plains Division President at the time.  Orlando, who worked for the City of Midland, had fenced for his home country of Panama in the Olympics.  The article also announced their first beginner’s class which took place in the old Parks and Recreation building behind Dennis the Menace Park.  It also explained that the club's name referred to a situation in a fencing bout where both fencers are tied at a score one touch short of winning the bout and the next touch decides the winner.
My mom showed me the article and I was immediately interested.  I was 12 years old at the time and found a book my Michel Alaux (which I still have) and started studying.  I took the class and stuck with the club for a couple of years.  The club moved around, meeting at the MAF National Guard Armory, the old Alamo YMCA, and even a few times in a day care.  A West Texas bust blew through and the membership dwindled to the point that insurance through the U. S. Fencing Association couldn’t be met and the club stopped meeting.
The club existed in pockets for a few years.  I began my career in law enforcement and didn’t fence for a long time.  I lost touch with everyone in the club.  One day I was talking about fencing and heard the name Lan Powers.  Lan became involved in the club in the late 80’s and early 90’s when I wasn’t in the picture.  He attended the USFA Coaches College around 1989.  I looked up Lan’s number and called him around 1991 but the hours of our jobs made it impossible for us to establish a regular workout together.  The club continued to exist in small pockets and eventually stopped meeting.
Sometime around 1996 I bumped into Robert Walter.  He had become a minister and I started attending his church.  Again, work schedules prevented any serious fencing but we did manage to work out a time or two.  In 2005 I was accepted into an investigator slot at work which meant I was to work banker’s hours for the first time in my life.  I called Robert and Lan and the club was up and running.
I went to the USFA Coaches College in 2006.  We already had a beginner’s class scheduled when I got back.  We were having a blast.  We started competing again and, although it wasn’t pretty, we were hip-deep in modern fencing.  Oh my, how it had changed.  The sport was faster, more competitive and popular.
By 2008, Robert had taken a job in Virginia. Lan’s successful family business (Scully Stone) and Aikido study pressed him out of coaching but he managed to come cross blades once in a while.  He is currently a Sandan (Third Dan.)
Jim Geitgey called me one day and asked about our club.  He was new to Midland and had studied under Coach Andrey Geva in Houston.  Jim is an outstanding epeeist and once brought Andrey to Midland for a clinic.  I still use notes from that clinic!  Jim started a fund for the club’s coaching development which pays tuitions for us to attend clinics and coach schools.  An unfortunate joint injury put fencing aside for Jim but his help with the club has ensured the club a long life.
We’ve experimented with various beginner’s courses from once-weekly classes to weekend clinics.  Members come and go but the club maintains a roster of about 20 members with a core group of about six who can be found at most practices.  The club met at the Martin Luther King Center until we were offered space at the Cole Theater's basement.  We were thrilled to have air conditioning and wood floors! 
We've been going strong for five years without hiatus.  The skill level and enthusiasm is still high.  We'll be announcing more beginner's classes soon!
Visit our website at www.lbfcmidland.com and friend us on FaceBook!
Please comment if you have any additions or corrections to the club history.

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