By Morgan Bryce
The sport of fencing has arrived in the Opelika/Auburn area.
Auburn Fencing, owned by Rylan Delap and his wife Tatiana, is a new fencing academy located in downtown Opelika.
“We are the second sanctioned United States Fencing club in Alabama, besides the one in Birmingham. I’ve been teaching fencing for a while, and when I was faced with a choice of teaching at other clubs or opening my own, it made sense to open my own,” Delap said. “This seemed like a great area … we’ve done the market research and we’ve got the right people on board. We’re excited to see the sport grow here.”
Delap and Tatiana are both respected members of the American and international fencing communities. A Birmingham native, Delap was a member of Pennsylvania State’s NCAA title-winning team in 2014, and currently serves as a tournament referee and president of the Alabama division for U.S. Fencing. Tatiana was a national champion fencer in Russia, and instructed fencing students for five years at the prestigious St. Petersburg Olympic Sports School.
Following a third-place finish for the U.S. fencing team at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Delap said the sport is seeing a national spike in popularity. Along with a growing international profile, he said fencing’s growth can be attributed to its overall safety and other intrinsic benefits.
“The thing about fencing that a lot of people don’t know about is that there are more scholarship opportunities proportionally per athlete than any other sport. As you grow up and compete in fencing, you go to these national tournaments and get to meet and develop relationships with the top coaches in the sport, which helps with the recruiting process,” Delap said. “It’s also popular with veterans and older people because it’s a good mind game, like physical chess, and a great form of exercise.”
According to the main Olympics webpage, the modern sport of fencing traces its roots back to the 15th century. Within fencing are three main, sword-like weapons: the epee, foil and sabre. Each weapon requires different rules, attire and strategies in competition.
Competing on 14×2 meter playing strips called ‘pistes’, a fencer’s goal is to register a certain number of hits or touches to an opponent. Upon each touch, a scoring machine will buzz, indicating which player earned a point.
Delap said AFC will offer a complete fencing experience to its students. Lessons taught by him and Tatiana will feature proper conditioning and stretching, footwork and handwork and drills to hone technique.
On Saturdays, Delap said the club will host bouts for students to compete against each other, so he and Tatiana can offer pupils insight and advice.
Delap said he is excited to see the potential his business has to grow and expand fencing into the Opelika/Auburn area.
“We believe that we can grow a deeply rooted fencing culture here in Opelika. When people talk about what’s happening in Opelika four or five years from now, we hope that people say, ‘oh, there’s fencing here,’” Delap said.
AFC is located at 229 S Eighth St. in downtown Opelika. For more information and membership costs, call Delap at (334) 462-6377 or follow the business on Facebook.