Zorro Project teaches fencing to underprivileged students - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Zorro Project teaches fencing to underprivileged students

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Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2013 9:59 am | Updated: 12:48 pm, Wed Dec 3, 2014.

If you’ve ever known anything at all about fencing, odds are pretty good you’ve forgotten it since the late night you caught it on television during the last Summer Olympics.

Fencing coach Rachelle Arama of Arizona Fencing Center in Mesa knows that; she’s known it all too well since she was 17, ready to accept a scholarship to Wayne State University in Detroit — back then, a top-notch landing spot for any of the sport’s up-and-coming products.

Today, she wants to spread the word about all fencing has done for her, and what it can offer others. And she wants to make a difference in the lives of children, who she believes can share the gifts the sport gave to her.

So on top of her coaching career and on top of her position as chair of the Arizona Fencing Division, which amateur fencing in the state, Arama created the nonprofit Fencing For All Foundation to do just that.

“I have the resources to offer fencing, which to me is not only a physical sport but it’s a mental sport because it trains your brain so much,” Arama said. “It’s a lifelong sport, too. ... It doesn’t end when you’re done with high school or college.”

The mainstay program offered of the organization is the Zorro Project, which offers a drastically reduced fee of $25 per semester to Mesa Unified School District students who qualify for Title 1 benefits.

“Our mission is to educate children through the sport in self-discipline and self control and life and leadership skills that many sports teach but ours is kind of a throwback with the emphasis on discipline and integrity and honor,” Arama said; participants generally range in age from 8 to 13, but students as old as 16 have participated in the program.

The lessons that Zorro Project students receive would cost around $95 per month to a fully paying student, Arama said – and that’s a price parents who attend practice with their children said they could not afford.

April Stewart is one of those parents. Her 9-year-old daughter attends the Wednesday classes from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. with two cousins. Stewart moved from Washington eight months ago and was looking for something that would give her exercise but also teach some important skills that are applicable of the mat.

“There’s rules that have to be followed and (it helps) her get into that program of ‘you need to do what you’re supposed to do in order to be successful.” Stewart said.

Martha Glazier, whose 9-year-old daughter Kyleigh attends Zorro, says it’s helped with her physical abilities.

“I think that it’s helping her with coordination and balance and she’s always been kind of tall for her age,” Glazier said.

Glazier adds that the disciplined aspects of the sport have helped her daughter focus better outside of the fencing center.

Right now, there is only one session per week with about averages about eight or nine children. Arama hopes the program will expand to other sessions. The program also requires the students to provide their own transportation, which Arama hopes will change as more people find out about the program and its funding increases.

Arama based her idea for the program on the Peter Westbrook Foundation in New York. Westbrook was a successful fencer during the 1970s and 1980s, who started a program that teaches fencing to underprivileged youth.

Arama knows the sport will amount to little more than a hobby for most competitors but that it is part of the charm of the sport.

“There’s not all that pressure to become a professional fencer,” she said laughing, noting that beyond amateur, scholastic and Olympic competition, being a professional fencer is a rare career path.

Arama conducts the program with the help of fencing sisters Sarah and Teresa McBryan. Sarah, 18, and Teresa, 16 are both students at Chandler’s Seton Catholic Preparatory Academy and have been members of Arizona Fencing Center for about seven years; the pair helps with coaching, public relations for the program and whatever else needs to get done around the center.

They, too, work with Zorro because they know the benefits of the sport firsthand.

It started when Teresa, who was friends with Arama’s daughter, joined.

“Of course, fencing is awesome. You get to learn sword fighting, so I always wanted to do an adventurous sport like that,” Teresa said. “Then it just happened to be my friend’s mom was a coach at this fencing center … It was just a happy coincidence.”

Sarah soon followed.

“I joined because she joined,” Sarah said. “I felt like it was a lot of fun and she was meeting a lot of people.”

The girls have become quite involved with the sport and enjoy opportunities to travel and compete around the world. Teresa went to Italy for a tournament Thursday.

“I wasn’t the sporty as a person but I love fencing and now I compete and I fence everyday,” Teresa said.

For information regarding Arizona Fencing Center, the Fencing For All Foundation or the Zorro Project visit, www.azfencing.com or call 480-235-0627.

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