Lakewood OH

Local fencers take over Goldwood Primary School

Rocky River's Gabriela Ruffus, left, defeated teammate Rebecca Shaffer in the junior women's epee event. Photo – Ryan Kaczmarski

By Ryan Kaczmarski

Saturday, the cafeteria of Rocky River’s Goldwood Primary School was turned into something out of a 1930s Errol Flynn movie, as the Rocky River High School fencing club, along with Lakewood’s Cyrano’s Place, held the Rocky River High School Invitational fencing tournament.

Student-athletes from all over the state converged on Rocky River for the tournament, but the event was dominated by locals, including Rocky River’s Gabriela Ruffus, who placed third in the junior women’s epee. Ruffus has enjoyed the sport for some time now.

“I started when I was in fifth grade or so,” she said. “I always like the aspect of fencing, because it looked really cool, so I went to Cyrano’s in Lakewood, and I did the summer programs.

“Coach Sara Kass intimidated me a little bit at first. I’m kind of a shy person, so I backed down from her for a couple of years, but I knew Rocky River High School had a fencing program, so I started back up again.

“They are all great people here – they’ve all become my friends – so I’ve been on the team since my freshman year and now I’m a junior.”

Kass is not only the head coach for the Pirates program, but also the owner of Cyrano’s Place.

“I always say, ‘The world revolves around fencing, it just doesn’t know it yet,’” Kass said. “I love the sport from a coaching standpoint, as well as a competitive standpoint, because to me, fencing is a parable for life.

“In life, you’re always having problems to solve, and one needs to have the skills to confront those problems. In fencing, you learn how to solve the problems in the strip (the marked lane which the fencers compete), which helps with the logic tree of life.

“I may never train a national champion fencer, but I’m training many champions of life.”

Aiden Gillespie, left, from Two Raven Fencing School, faced Rocky River's Alex Lenhart in the junior men's foil competition. Photo – Ryan Kaczmarski

The RRHS fencing program has seen a recent jump in interest, with nearly 20 members of this year’s team.

“It grows and shrinks, and shrinks and grows,” Kass explained. “This year, I have a team that is really neat. It is half seasoned fencers and half newbies.

“Next year, there are a lot of eighth-graders coming up (along with some of the seventh-graders coming in two years), so I know that in the next couple of years, the team is going to explode in numbers and experience.”

The friendships made in fencing competition, seem to last a lifetime.

“It’s such a small community,” Kass said. “I have people here that met though the sport over the decades, and the friendships made as kids has remained through adulthood.

“It is a life-sport. My college coach was 80-something years old when I was there, and she was the coach when my mom was an undergrad, 30 years prior.”

According to Kass, there has not been any tie in with pop-culture to the sport of fencing in many years, so the popularity of the sport has not seen much growth across the country.

“The main problem with fencing, according to American standards, is that we don’t use a ball,” she said. “The typical American mentality is that you use a ball or brawn to be successful. In fencing, you use a higher percentage of intellect and finesse.”

The next event for the Rocky River team is the Cyrano’s “Got Saber?” tournament on March 16. For more information, go to


Rocky River Invitational results (top five):


Junior men’s epee: 1. Andrew Kubisty; 2. Zane Steiber; 3. Christopher Blackburn; 4. Nicholas Masso; 5. Alexander Hafko.


Junior men’s foil: 1. Christopher Jin; 2. Aiden Gillespie; 3. (tie) Andrew Wang, Benjamin Wu; 5. Zane Steiber.


Junior men’s sabre: 1. Maya Szonn-Lillard; 2. Nicole Fisher; 3. (tie) Matthew Hayes, James Clark; 5. Aiden Gillespie.


Junior women’s epee: 1. Maeve Elizabeth Billings; 2. Madalyn Vedaa; 3. (tie) Gabriela Ruffus, Rebecca Shaffer; 5. Dayna Polk.


Junior women’s foil: 1. Maya Szonn-Lillard; 2. Jean Feng; 3. (tie) Kayla Levin, Myckal Bean; 5. Gabriele McCullar.


Junior women’s sabre: 1. Maya Szonn-Lillard; 2. Nicole Fisher; 3. (tie) Alexis Janke, Winni Gao; 5. Jasiah Scribner.




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