Sunday, October 24, 2021
Oct. 24, 2021

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Coach has a point to make about fencing

Open house meant to bolster his case for greater participation in sport locally

By , Columbian environment and transportation reporter
7 Photos
Jazzy Shepard, left, spars with Kaela Meeham at Orion Fencing on Sunday afternoon. Orion Fencing in Orchards held a free open house over the weekend.
Jazzy Shepard, left, spars with Kaela Meeham at Orion Fencing on Sunday afternoon. Orion Fencing in Orchards held a free open house over the weekend. (Natalie Behring for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Justin Meehan, the head coach at Orion Fencing, dreams of seeing varsity-level fencing in every high school in the Greater St. Helens League, and he wants to help make that happen.

His standing offer to high school teachers:

“If you are willing to be the fencing coach in one of these public schools, to be the faculty adviser, I will teach you to coach for free, I will teach you to fence for free, and I will teach your children to fence for free, as long as you’re running this club,” Meehan said Sunday.

Gear, swords, maintenance instruction, coaching tips — they’ll help, Meehan said, outlining his master plan.

There’s only so much space on the basketball roster, and wrestling and gymnastics can be relatively more demanding, he said, explaining that fencing can be a good choice for those kids looking for another option during the winter season.

“With fencing you have an opportunity for a lot of kids to participate, and if you’re not really good, you can still have a good time fencing,” he said.

Learn More

Find out more about Orion Fencing at or contact the club at 360-254-5999.

He figures that if enough local kids start school clubs, and those get large enough, parents and athletic directors will take notice, then schools will feel more comfortable with formal programs.

Meehan looked at the calendar and figured the weekend between holidays might mean a lot of mothers and fathers looking for a chance to get their kids out of the house, so Orion Fencing opened its doors to the curious with an open house over the weekend, with free introductions to the sport.

It was the club’s first time doing an open house, he said, and while only a handful of families showed up, he kept busy.

“All of my regulars who would normally take the holidays off have shown up,” Meehan said while swords connected and buzzers rang in the background.

The Northwest has a fairly good fencing scene, he said. One might call Beaverton, Ore., the center of fencing in the Western Hemisphere, in terms of hardware, not least because it’s where two-time Olympic gold medalist saber fencer Mariel Zagunis trains.

Meehan said the not-for-profit fencing club has a stable of about 80 regulars, but he’d like to see that number grow. The club has enough gear to ready about a hundred people for learning and fighting. Orion Fencing also offers wheelchair fencing facilities.

Opportunities for fencers in the young adult and older age range to fight can be limited, so he’s trying to get more fencers to the level where they can act as referees, or coach in the basics, to help build the sport in the region.

Meehan’s coached through the Vancouver Elite Gymnastics Academy and at Northpointe Gymnastics before starting the fencing-specific Orion Fencing a few years ago. Before that, he spent time with clubs in Louisiana and his native Northeast, where he picked up the sport after getting tired of his scant court time with middle school basketball.

He realized he could join the fencing program and fight daily, which beat riding pine, he said.

“You find out why these people started fencing, it’s the dumbest reasons,” he joked.

A friend of his picked up fencing after seeing a photo of Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden, one of her favorite bands, fencing. She ended up going to college on a partial fencing scholarship.

Olympic fencer Tim Morehouse picked it up because he didn’t want to do high school P.E., Meehan said, and Olympian Cliff Bayer ended up in the summer camp fencing program after oversleeping and missing lacrosse sign-ups.

Meehan compared fencing to learning Chinese. The prospect might seem daunting or just too different, but one must remember more than a billion people have figured it out and are managing just fine with the language, so you probably could, too.

“Our goal is to get everybody in Clark and Cowlitz counties to understand that they can fence,” he said. “It is not really hard, it’s not really dangerous, it is not really expensive, it’s really fun, and it’s extremely accessible.”

Beyond standard strain injuries, it’s rare for anyone to get hurt, he added, noting another feature of fencing is that, among martial sports, losing doesn’t hurt so bad.

“It’s the fight everybody can enjoy and survive.”

The athletes who prosper with fencing tend to have a bent for problem solving, or mastery, he said. Alternatively, they’re simply competitive people.

“You either have to be problem-driven: You’re the problem. Or competition driven: They’re the problem,” he said.

Columbian environment and transportation reporter