If the phrase “everybody likes a winner” was really true, the women’s fencing team would have a difficult time walking down Broad Street without getting mobbed by throngs of fans and supporters.
Instead, they are lucky to even be considered athletes, let alone members of one of Temple’s most successful programs.
“I think that the publicity we get on campus is not as good as it could be,” fencing coach Nikki Franke said, “based on how we have done.”
The fencing team has placed seventh in the NCAA Championships the past two years. They won the title in 1992, one of four national championships Temple has captured in its nearly 110 years of athletics.
In its 31 years of existence, the fencing team has amassed a 460-121-1 record, a winning percentage of nearly .800. Franke is one of the most revered coaches in the fencing world. Some of her accolades include membership in the U.S. Fencing Association and the Temple University Hall of Fame. Franke qualified for two U.S. Olympic teams and was inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
Strong alumni support has also been a factor in the success over the years. Former fencers return to help out with the Temple Open, other home meets and also to compete against the current team in the Alumnae Meet, which was held Jan. 11.
The annual event pitted old school against the new in fun, non-competitive action. It gave the Owls a chance to shake off any rust from the winter break and allowed alumni to relive their days on the strip and visit with Franke.
“Nikki had a lot of respect for us and we had a lot of respect for ourselves,” said Rachel McDaniel, who from 1983-87 recorded a .848 winning percentage in foil, the highest in team history.
Despite the fencing program’s impressive resume, the Owls always seem to miss the athletic radar, overshadowed by more popular revenue generating sports.
Fencing is a non-revenue sport at Temple, meaning any funding it receives comes from the Athletics Department or through fundraisers. Money generated from these two sources has been crucial to the team slicing its way to victories in the past.
Budget cuts were made to the athletics department earlier this season, and those cuts have naturally affected the fencing program, according to Franke.
“[The cut is] very difficult to accommodate once you have your schedule pretty much set and have a plan on what you want to do,” Franke said. “The adjustments are going to affect the overall program.”
When asked about a budget cut to the fencing program, Temple Athletics Director Bill Bradshaw said there was no cut to the athletics department. He would not comment on the exact budget of any team.
Aside from the decrease in finances, another problem the team has had to deal with is practice space. A dance room in Pearson Hall has served as the practice facility for the Owls since the program began in 1972.
While Franke did compliment the Dance Department for its cooperation in allowing the team to use the room, she feels the tight space inhibits practice as well as the recruitment process.
“We’re bumping into each other at times and it limits what we can do,” Franke said.
“We’re one of the few Division I programs that does not have a dedicated space to practice in.”
The issue of space has been brought up in past meetings with former Athletics Director Dave O’Brien. Bradshaw said he was unaware of any facility problems the team has had.
While a new practice facility could improve the chances of another national title and recruiting, recognition from the school would also be welcomed.
“It’s frustrating that people go ‘Oh, I didn’t know we had a fencing team’ or ‘I didn’t know you guys were that good,'” Franke said.
With the exception of the Olympics, the sport of fencing is not acknowledged on the national level. People therefore do not see it as they do football or basketball. But just like any other athlete, weightlifting and running are a part of the training process for fencers, aside from the scheduled practices and meets.
“Being a fencer in general . . . [people] say you’re not a real athlete,” senior Nerita Brummel said. “I get that a lot.”
With the team meet season just underway, the Owls are undefeated at 4-0 and ranked No. 10 in the nation. They’ll host a meet at McGonigle Hall this Saturday at 11 a.m.
Steve Papurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org