Many make the drive from within Cherokee County, but others come from farther away — Marietta, Norcross, Cartersville, Peachtree City and even Chattanooga, Tenn.
They all come to fence.
John Terris, a longtime fencing coach who previously trained his students through the Cherokee Recreation and Parks Agency, opened a training facility last fall, and interest in the North Atlanta Fencing Center has grown exponentially over the past 10 months.
There are now three full-time coaches and two student-coaches working at the facility. All are certified in their specific weapon by the United States Fencing Coaches Association.
Terris said participation has more than doubled, with more than 90 students training regularly. The majority of them are between the ages of 10 and 13, although there are also specific lessons for adults. The Kennesaw State University fencing team also practices in Woodstock as well as group of Paralympians who train under Julio Diaz.
“We are the second-largest facility in the state,” Terris said. “We want to be the total package for a student. We want to carry them through their entire careers, and not just to a point.”
Several things that set Terris’ 8,400-square-foot facility apart from other centers. Among them are the grounded strips, an exercise room, a repair shop, a pro shop, and a parents’ lounge complete with wireless Internet.
Parents — many of whom bring their children to the facility as many as five times a week — say the location on Highway 92, just east of Interstate 575, makes it an easy drive, while family atmosphere makes it fun to be a part of.
Sheila Shinholster has two children — 12-year-old Michael and 8-year-old Anna — who train at the facility three times a week, while Michael is also a part of a cross-training program that involves boxing twice a week.
“They just love it,” Sheila Shinholster said. “Anna used to do ballet, and when it finished, she wanted to try fencing. I didn’t think she would last, but she has. She loves coming out there.”
When asked why she enjoys fencing, Anna Shinholster said it’s fun.
“I like to compete,” she said. “I get to come out here with my friends.”
Jeanne Bohannon said that for her son, Duncan, training at the facility is like visiting family.
Duncan Bohannon has been fencing for a year-and-a-half and trains five nights a week. A part of the gifted program at Teasley Middle School, he uses fencing as his outlet for stress. This year alone, he’s registered for more than 20 tournaments around the country.
“This provides him with an amazing destressing outlet,” Jeanne Bohannon said. “He wouldn’t be able to do the academics if he couldn’t come here and be physical.”
As much fun as the students have fencing, they remain dedicated and serious. The club recently made its first trip to summer nationals in Columbus, Ohio, sending eight competitors —Trevor Porter in Y10 epee; Joe Gonzalez, Tony Vernachio, Duncan Bohannon and Michael Shinholster in Y12 epee; Connor McGurk in Y12 foil; Gina Knox in veteran women’s sabre; and Phoenix Williams in Division II and Division III junior women’s epee.
Shinholster placed 42nd among 155 participants, while Williams placed 22nd and 26th in her events.
Children can start competing at the national level at as young as 8 years old.
“We start our fencers as early as age 5,” Terris said. “We have our SAFE program — ‘Swords are Fun and Educational.’ They use plastic weapons and a lot of games. … We have programs for all ages and skill levels.”
The center also hosts events, such as the Beginner’s Brawl, which will be held Saturday.
Terris describes fencing as “physical chess” or “tag with a metal stick.”
“It’s hard for it not to appeal to children,” he said, before cautioning that the sport is “more challenging than it looks.”
Terris added that another aspect of fencing that appeals to parents is that it’s relatively inexpensive to get into, and there are scholarship offers for those who excel. Young fencers also have the opportunity to compete head-to-head against Olympians.
“Here, the professionals can fence the up-and-comers,” Terris said. “It’s just the way the community is.”