Learning the ABC’s of Fencing

Although my eldest child has been fencing competitively for over 5 years and I believe I understand the youth circuit competitions pretty well, I find myself with a dilemma about now having to understand the non-youth circuit (and having to coordinate it with the youth competitions of my youngest). I thought I would write about both youth and non-youth competitions so others would not have to spoon through the same alphabet soup of competitions espoused by the “USFA” (United States Fencing Association). I feel like I finally figured out the ABCs of youth competitions only to find myself having to now learn the non-youth alphabet. As of August 1, 2012 my eldest will no longer be able to fence in “Y14” competitions, the last stop for youth competitors. He will now have to fence exclusively in “Cadet” or above competitions. However, I still have a couple more years to use my youth competition spelling skills for my youngest.

The USFA recognizes three “youth” categories. Youth categories are listed by the oldest age for the fencer and are designated “Y10, Y12, and Y14.” The categories go by birth year and allow the fencer to fence in the category for three years. For example, in 2012 the “Y10” category is for fencers born between 2001 to 2004. As a side note, it doesn’t take much thought to realize a child born closer to January 1, 2001 will have an advantage over the child born closer to December 31, 2001. Youth fencers may fence in their category and, for more competition, the next category up, e.g. a Y10 fencer may fence in Y10 competitions and Y12 competitions. Youth competitors that want even more competition can enter into Regional Tournaments which can qualify them to enter into even greater competitive National Tournaments.

Regional (and National) youth competitions are best figured out by separating the Y10 and Y12 fencers from the Y14 fencers. Regional Tournaments are designated either as Regional Youth Circuit (“RYC”) or Super Youth Circuit (“SYC”) tournaments. The SYC tournaments are considerably larger than the RYC events. Currently, a youth that fences at a RYC or a SYC in the Y10 or Y12 categories automatically qualifies, regardless of how well or poorly the fencer places, to compete at the North American Cup (“NAC”) held in April and July. The July competition is the USA Fencing National Championships (usually called “Summer Nationals”), but parents should note that Summer Nationals is specifically not a “championship” competition for the Y10 or Y12 categories. This is a major distinguishing factor between Y14 and the younger categories.

Since Summer Nationals specifically is the championships for the Y14 category, the Y14 fencer has a little bit harder path to make it to Summer Nationals. Unlike the Y10 or Y12 categories, Summer Nationals are THE championship competition for the Y14 category. The Y14 fencer must either be the overall winner (i.e. 1st place in the event if mixed) of an RYC Y14 competition or place in the top 40% of an SYC Y14 competition. Additionally, a Y14 fencer may qualify for Summer Nationals by placing in the top 25% at the fencer’s Division qualifier competition which is usually held within a month or so before the May deadline to apply for Summer Nationals. Note that a Y10, Y12, or Y14 fencer will get National Points (and receive a National Ranking for the age group in which the fencer competed) if the fencer finishes in the top 40% at an SYC. Once a fencer no longer can fence as a “youth” and as early as when he or she turns 13 years old, competition is considerably different.

When a fencer can no longer fence in the Y14 category, the next “official” category is Under 16 or “Cadet.” The next “official” category up from Cadet is Under 19 or “Junior.” However, upon turning 13 years old, a fencer may fence in adult or “Senior” (i.e. 13 and older) events. So here are the many choices for the now “adult” fencer.

The Cadet fencer should now replace the SYC events he or she competed in as a youth, with NAC competitions. Cadet fencers do not “qualify” for NAC competitions, like their youth counterparts. The Cadet fencer will usually want to have achieved a “rating” at local or club competitions before going to NAC competitions. The fencer needs to have an A, B, or C “rating” to compete in the highest level at NAC competitions. The particular “divisions” at NAC competitions are Division III, II, and I. Division III is open to fencers rated U, E, or D. Division II is open to fencers rated U, E, D, or C. Division I is open to fencers C, B, or A. Obviously, there will be more fencers with a D rating at the Division III level, with a C rating at the Division II level, and with an A rating at the Division I level. While Divisions III and II fencers are only fencing for a higher rating, Division I fencers are the only fencers that may also get National Points. A Division I fencer that finishes in the top 40% (to a maximum place of 32nd) receives points for a National ranking. Additionally, the Division I level will usually have the highest nationally, and internationally, ranked fencers which includes Olympic fencers. Summer National championships are held for all these Divisions.

Unlike Y14 (and the Divisions) instead of Summer National championships, Cadet (and Junior) fencers have Junior Olympic Fencing Championships (“JOs”) in February. Curiously, the JOs use the classifications of Under 17 as Cadet and Under 20 as Junior. Most JO fencers will qualify to compete through fencing at their division qualifier and placing in the top 25%.

The JOs are usually what smart Cadets and Juniors strive to attend. The reason is that many NCAA college fencing coaches attend this competition to recruit for their college fencing teams.

There is also a Division 1A which has fencers that qualify by fencing in the Regional Open Circuit (“ROC”). Strangely, it seems all ratings may fence in Division 1A, unlike the next Division down from 1A. The ROC Division II is for fencers rated “C” and under. The ROC is designed to promote and develop regional tournaments for fencers who seek competition at a level between local and national competitions. A fencer may fence in ROC competitions and receive ROC standing points by placing in the top 32 at a ROC tournament. Note ROC points and standings are specifically not National points or rankings. However, a fencer may improve his or her rating by fencing in such competitions. Also, Summer Nationals are held for these as championships. To qualify, fencers must finish in the top 10% (with a minimum of 4) at a Division I-A ROC event for the ROC Championships at Summer Nationals.

I hope I have the tournament structures figured out. Now the hard part will be trying to find youth competitions and adult competitions to allow both of my children to compete on the same weekend at the same place. If I can’t get the scheduling right, I may never have a weekend at home.

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