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Summer 2011 Table of Contents

En Garde! Fencing Club’s David Guardino

Coach refuses to let challenges stand in his way

| From Commonwealth | By Cynthia K. Buccini | Video by Robin Berghaus
Watch this video on YouTube

David Guardino, coach of the BU Fencing Club, along with his ASL interpreter and a fencer, discusses the challenges and benefits of being deaf in the sport. Photos by Cydney Scott

It’s a Wednesday night in the three-court gym at the Fitness & Recreation Center, and the Fencing Club is making its usual racket. Weapons clatter and clang as students spar; scoring machines beep when a target is hit. Coach David Guardino, wearing a white fencing jacket, padded glove, and baggy shorts, is at the back of the room with a half-dozen foil fencers. He faces Becca Lauzon (CAS’13), and they both pull a protective mask down over their face.

“Are we…” she starts to ask, wondering if they will be practicing a move or simply sparring. In a moment, a young woman dressed in street clothes appears at her side, facing Guardino. “Are we just fencing?” Lauzon continues. Guardino watches the woman, then nods to Lauzon, and the two begin.

The unusual exchange is one of very few indications that Guardino (CAS’08) is not a typical coach. He has a hearing loss, and he communicates during the club’s practices and competitions with the help of a sign language interpreter, almost always Caity Cross-Hansen.

Guardino, who fenced with the club as a BU student and has been coach since 2009, can hear sounds and read lips. But because the gym is such a noisy place and because all fencers must wear masks—making it nearly impossible to see their faces—he relies on an unmasked signer to tell him what’s being said.

“Caity has a good rapport with the fencers and me,” Guardino says. “She knows the sport and the coaches.”

David Guardino, coach of the BU Fencing Club, communicates with the help of interpreter Bethany Bertrand.

The strategy works. Guardino teaches some 40 students the art of foil, épée, and saber. (Each weapon is different, and each has its own set of rules.) They describe their coach as knowledgeable and enthusiastic and say communication is rarely a problem. And they are happy to learn a little sign language along the way.

Ralph Conserva says Guardino is not just a coach; he’s a mentor. “There were a lot of issues with my style when fencing that he was able to point out early, unlike any other coach I have had in the past,” says Conserva (SMG’13), who started the sport as a high school freshman. “Because of him, I do believe I am not only a better fencer, but a better athlete in general.”

Guardino, who hails from Pine Brook, N.J., was born with a hearing loss. (Both his parents and his sister are deaf.) He attended a public high school that has a program for deaf students. And while he was busy with extracurricular activities—he was a peer leader, editor of a newsletter for the deaf, and a member of the fishing club and the academic bowl—he didn’t play any sports. “I was the least athletic kid in school,” Guardino says. “I just liked reading.”

But when he started his sophomore year at BU, he decided to try a physical activity and joined a fencing class. After a few weeks, he was hooked.

At the club’s four-night-a-week practices, Guardino and Cross-Hansen incorporate some sign language into each lesson, teaching students how to count or how to say, “ready,” “okay,” and “understand.”

Guardino enjoys seeing fencers develop as athletes. “We have a lot of people come in with no fencing experience,” he says, “and they’re very awkward. But when they reach a point where they’ll go all-out and do what it takes to win, that’s when it feels good.”

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On 31 July 2011 at 4:58 PM, Paul R. Stankiewicz (CGS'57) wrote:

Innovation in fencing has an interesting history at BU. Fencing while deaf is quite a challenge. Can you imagine what fencing blind must be? Yet, BU fencing Coach Larry Dargie, in the late 1940s, became the first fencing coach in the world to teach the blind to fence. He did this in an experimental program with veterans blinded during WWII. Father Thomas J. Carroll, then an Army chaplain, headed that rehabilitation program. The purpose was clear. It was to help the blind to use the long cane for safe travel anywhere. Finding an opponent’s blade is not much different than the coordination, discipline and judgment in finding a curb or a dangerous obstruction. The concept worked.

At BU, I believe he called it “fencing in the absence of the blade,” a lesson he tried to impart to us to always be in control of, or readiness to control, your opponent’s blade. Fr. Carroll and Coach Dargie brought the successful fencing for the blind concept to St. Paul’s Rehabilitation Center in Newton in 1954 (later renamed the Carroll Center). Coach Dargie did even more. He brought his friend, all American Harvard fencer Eric Sollee (later renowned fencing coach at Harvard and MIT) to the center in 1968. Coach Sollee succeeded Dargie in 1972 and went on to devote four successful decades to teaching and further developing the fencing for the blind concept.

It should no surprise, then, that former BU Coach Dargie’s extraordinary program recently led to the first fencing competition for the blind in history, March 29, 2010, between the Carroll Center and the Perkins School for the Blind. That he could turn this uncoordinated non-sportsman into a winning Epee fencer in the mid-1950s is solely due to Coach Larry Dargie’s patience and inspiring teaching skills. BU’s fencing history is unusual, indeed.

Lt. Col. (ret) P. R. Stankiewicz
PS: I am also a graduate of CAS ’59, but CGS is when I began fencing.

On 25 July 2011 at 1:32 PM, Marion Frost (CAS'51) wrote:

Inspiring! As I'm aging I find myself less able. But that doesn't mean I'm quitting. I've modified a lot of my activities, so that I can continue. I've also taken up hand drumming. Much to learn, but I have a great teacher!

Wonderful that David didn't let a disability prevent him from doing what he wanted to do!

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