Wayne State's fencing program added to its remarkable legacy this year with its 15th-place finish at the NCAA championships in March. Although WSU has made 24 consecutive trips to the tournament, if one were to scroll through the history of the NCAA championships and season rankings, you'd notice it was dominated by Division I and Ivy League schools.
While head coach Jerzy Radz and his team are proud to compete with these larger schools, they also realize they are at a disadvantage.
Since collegiate fencing's inception in 1941, sports at the college level has grown as a whole, especially in its ability to generate revenue. The formula is simple: If you have a big football team, you can afford more for your fencing team. For example, Radz has a total of four assistant coaches, two of whom are volunteers; larger programs have assistants for each weapon.
The team is attempting to address the financial disparity between them and their competitors by utilizing the Blackstone LaunchPad at WSU. Blackstone has set them up with Patronicity, which is based out of Detroit, and will give the fencing team a chance to raise money through crowdfunding, a method of reaching out for donations through online communities.
The fundraising effort can be viewed at patronicity.com under “projects.”
Their goal is to raise $3,000 by April 12 at midnight; however, it is an all-or-nothing initiative: If the goal is not met, no donations will be collected.
The team plans to put the money towards new equipment most of their budget now is put towards travel expenses. Currently, the team uses its uniforms in both practice and competition resulting in thread-worn material. They also have trouble keeping a comfortable stock of blades, which tend to break during competitions.
The NCAA started the men's fencing championship in 1941-42, then picked it back up after World War II from 1947-1989. The women's tournament began in 1982, running through 1989, when the two tournaments were combined in 1990 until today. In this time period, WSU has collected seven men's team championships and three women's 29 top ten finishes (between both men and women's teams), 24 men's individual champions and four women's.
The women's three team championships were the most of any program before the tournaments were merged, while the men’s 19 individual champions and seven team wins were both third most pre-merger. According to Radz, this winning tradition helps him and his team keep a competitive edge.
"It's a lot of pressure sometimes, you think 17th (place) is too low. I like this though. Some would say 23 years and a couple individual champions and I'm done. But no, not for me," he said.
Close to only 20 different men's and women's teams have won championships in the sport's entire collegiate history. The first 40 odd years were dominated by New York University (12 titles), Columbia (11) and WSU. The last 23 have seen even narrower competition. Penn State has won 12 times in this time period with Ohio State and Notre Dame combining for seven of the remaining 11 years.
WSU is one of only nine teams to compete in the NCAA championship since it was reformatted in 1990. They haven't won a championship since the women's team in 1989, but perhaps a step towards narrowing the financial gap between them and larger schools will again bring them closer to the winner's circle.
Having said this, WSU’s fencing team is hoping for a last minute boost to help their funding. Captain of the men’s fencing team, Adam Accica, discusses the importance of this fundraiser in a Q & A with The South End.
Q: How much will it mean to you and the rest of the team if you raise enough to acquire this new equipment? Will it significantly impact your ability to compete and practice?
A: Having new equipment would mean so much to the fencers. Competing with high-quality equipment increases the fencer’s confidence on the strip and not having to worry about faulty equipment enables the fencer to concentrate on winning.
Q: In your time with the team, has it been a point of pride that you consistently compete with these larger fencing institutions despite the disparity in funding and recognition?
A: It is a great feeling when you get the chance to compete against some of the best fencers in the world. The competition is great, but a fencer is only satisfied when they win. Watching my sabre teammate, Nikita Silantyev, defeat Daryl Homer, a U.S. Olympian, was one of the highlights of my season. Nikita’s victory shows me that we can compete against these prestigious schools, but only when our team is a TOP contender for the NCAA championship will I be satisfied.
Q: What does it mean for the team to be a constant presence in the NCAA championship tournament without having the same advantages as most of the other schools there? Will a successful fundraiser be a step towards narrowing that gap?
A: Having four WSU fencers compete in the NCAA championship tournament this year was a remarkable achievement. I think a successful fundraiser can help. Having new equipment not only gives the fencer confidence, but they also gain respect from their opponent at the same time showing respect for the sport.
Q: What was it like working with Blackstone and Patronicity? How much do you think they can do for your team and anyone else interested in enlisting their services?
A: It has been a pleasure working with Blackstone and Patronicity. Cynthia Hoffman, Program Coordinator for Blackstone, played a huge role in our campaign. She is a go-getter and beyond amazing! She has been supporting our team since the “Fencing Frenzy” in December 2012 and is such a great asset for Blackstone. Chris Blauvelt and Ebrahim Varachia from Patronicity are awesome! Originally, I was thinking about using a kick starter site like Indiegogo, but with my inexperience in fundraising, I am happy I chose Patronicity instead. Their local location allowed for face-to face weekly meetings (something Indiegogo cannot offer) that really made a powerful impact on our campaign. Chris and his team are passionate individuals who can really support Detroiters who seek funding.