Yale fencers past and present converged in the fencing room of Payne Whitney Gymnasium this past Saturday in the annual Dernell Every Open.
The tournament, named in honor of Dernell Every ’28 — known to be one of the greatest fencers in Yale history — has served as an annual fundraiser for the men’s and women’s fencing teams since the event was first held in 1971. Every was on three Olympic teams and was consistently ranked among the top five U.S. fencers for 25 years.
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About 25 alumni returned for this year’s tournament, Steve Blum ’74, who was the tournament’s director and is currently president of the Yale Fencing Association, said.
Alumni came from all over the country to fence current team members in the three weapons of foil, saber and épée. By participating in “sponsored fencing” — in which alumni pledged to donate a certain amount to the team each time a sponsored fencer made a successful touch or won a bout — alumni collectively raised thousands of dollars to support the team, Blum estimated.
The money raised in the annual event has helped to make the fencing program possible, according to Andrew Holbrook ’10.
Perhaps the most thrilling part of the tournament happened off the mat, in the annual ping-pong match between Blum and head coach Henry Harutunian. Every year, Blum pledges to donate $500 for each match out of 10 total matches that Harutunian wins. The coach won six hard-fought matches to raise an additional $3,000 for the team.
Blum said this energy and passion for the team is typical of Harutunian, who is beloved and respected by alumni and current team members alike.
Now in his 40th year at Yale, Harutunian has seen multiple generations of Yale fencers go through his training. This includes both Blum and his son, Max Blum ’09 MUS ’11, who also attended the event.
Alumni and students agreed that raising money was not the only benefit from the day’s event.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to be back here,” Valerie Asher ’82 MED ’90 said. “I think [this tournament] is unique among athletics in that alumni come back and actually compete against undergraduates.”
Asher added that the tournament is a good way to begin the team’s competitive season. The fact that freshmen like Maddy Buxton ’13, who won the women’s épée division, will have their names on trophies this early in the season creates a sense of pride going forward, Asher said.
For other alumni, returning to the fencing room brought back many fond memories, they said.
Steve Blum said his most memorable experience on the team took place in one of the first matches of his sophomore year, when he was down 0–2 to the captain of Harvard’s squad in a saber bout. As he saw his own father — a national championship fencer himself — enter the room, he decided he would not lose another touch that day. Blum won the match 15–2.
Still, the greatest end result of Saturday’s tournament may be the bonds formed between Yale fencers of all generations. At age 78, Joe Bodner ’53 has established many of these friendships over the years. Though he no longer attends weekly practices with the team, as he once did, he has come to this tournament every year since 1974.
“I’ve got to get back and get into better shape so I can fence and beat these young kids,” Bodner said. “But there’s a lot of enjoyment in just being with them.”
The fencing team begins its season this coming weekend by traveling to Penn State to compete in the annual Garret Open.