Published: Friday, March 22, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2013 00:03
Graphic by Kate Cherney ‘15 | The Lafayette
Photo courtesy of Tom Gautner
The Lafayette fencing team hosted the NCAA Regionals on Saturday, March 9. The program is suffering from a deficiency of funds. They operate under the second-lowest budget in the nation, more than only City College of New York.
On Saturday, March 9, roars echoed off of the Kirby Gymnasium walls during the Lafayette-Lehigh Patriot League semifinals basketball game. Amid the excitement, few spectators knew there were 216 of the nation’s best fencers competing in the NCAA Fencing tournament right upstairs.
For the second year in a row, the Leopards hosted the 13-team Mid-Atlantic/South Regional tournament. They were represented by 12 of their own fencers in Kamine Gym.
For Lafayette, the competition brought significant recognition, considering the school has the lowest-funded co-ed team of all NCAA fencing schools, according to 2011 Department of Education data provided by Head Coach Tom Gauntner.
Gauntner, who is retiring this year, admits “fencing is a little less known just inherently” in the sporting world—partly due to the fact that it is not an easy spectator sport since few understand the rules of competition.
But the data from 2011 is nevertheless shocking. Out of 40 Division I, II, and III NCAA institutions with fencing teams, Lafayette allocates the second-least amount of funds to fencers. At a mere $18,573 for both the men’s and women’s teams, the only team that had funds lower than Lafayette at the time of the data is City College of New York at $15,596. However, CCNY only has one women’s program to fund. Lafayette’s women get $8,358, the men $10,215—both totals significantly lower than the CCNY women’s program.
To further put things in perspective, Haverford, a Division III school often compared to Lafayette, allocated a total of $73,512 to their men’s and women’s teams. Most of the other Division I schools fell within the $100,000 to $400,000 range. The school with the most funding was Ohio State University, with a hefty budget of $1,033,882.00
Lafayette, despite being a Division I program, had a budget that was overshadowed by most Division III schools.
Although the fencing roster this year was big enough to allow for men and women to compete in separate conferences, both teams are currently funded as one co-ed program by the athletic department, making them the only co-ed fencing program in the NCAA.
“The most important thing the school could do right now would be to fund the program as two separate teams,” captain Dave Eckelmann ‘13 said.
Although Gauntner understands there is a strategic way for the athletic department to allocate funds, he wouldn’t complain about having more money in the program’s bucket.
“We haven’t seen our budget expand in six years,” Gauntner said. “Though I don’t think they are trying to push us down.”
For the time being, the team’s goal is to increase support and awareness among the administration, athletic department, and student body.
Raising this awareness was not one of the motives for hosting the NCAA tournament at Lafayette, but it was one of the more rewarding by-products.
“It was really great seeing my friends and classmates stopping by to support the team,” captain Lisa DeJoseph ‘13 said.
Gauntner said the hosting gig fell into their lap. Last year, no other school was scheduled to host the event, so Gauntner offered Lafayette’s facility. The team was also able to raise funds and save money on would-be travel expenses.
Due to the success of the first tournament, the NCAA has asked Lafayette to host a second time.
Some standouts on the strips for the men were Eckelmann, who was the only Leopard to make it to the second round, and David Jennings ‘16, who placed 25th.
On the women’s side, DeJoseph placed 27th while Colleen Way ‘15 finished 29th. Among the competition were two Olympic-level fencers who went to the 2012 London games.
For Gauntner, who graduated from Lafayette in 2004, it was a great end to a six-season coaching career for the Leopards. As he retires to build a family and focus on his full-time job at Picatinny Arsenal, Gauntner leaves behind a group of student-athletes who were bonded by their passion of fencing.
“The fencing team is a family,” DeJoseph said. “Between the hours spent at practice, our nightly team dinners, and our all-day meets on the weekends, I have truly grown attached to this group.”