Benefits of Joining a Sports Team
This article was written and published on 10/25/2017 on HubPages.
It was modified as a result of critique by members of the GPL writers’s group. My gratitude to all for their comments and suggestions. They have improved my essay tremendously.
The intent is for this article to be published in The Campus magazine of CCNY.
Benefits of Joining a Sports Team
By Jack C. Lee - Class of ‘74
Oct. 25, 2017
Q: What does Neil Diamond, Angelina Jolie, Mark Zuckerber, Bruce Lee and 007 have in common?
A: They are all fencers.
This past summer, a group of our teammates got together for a reunion BBQ and we reconnected after some 40 years. We had our wives with us and we were catching up with stories and memories. We also spoke about our lives since college about careers and family. We remembered our coaches who have passed away. Their impact on our lives cannot be under estimated. We all had a long career in our various disciplines, some in engineering and architecture and in medicine and others. The common bond was we were on the same team back in the 1970s, the heydays of CCNY athletics.
In the fall of 1969, I started my freshman year at CCNY in the school of Engineering. As someone new to college, I did not know what to expect. I was told during registration week that we needed to take two PE classes to satisfy our curricula requirements. I scanned the list of available courses and Introduction to fencing caught my eye. I had no idea what this sport was about but it seemed exotic and I wanted to try something new.
On the first day of class I went up to Lewisohn stadium and walked into the fencing room. The instructor Frank Seeley lined all of us up on the strip and passed out the equipment, a jacket, glove, a mask and a foil. We were instructed to pair up and stand en guarde. Over the next few weeks, he instructed us on some of the basic moves of fencing, lunge, parry, and riposte... It required us to use muscles that we normally don't use. I was sore after a few lessons but it was intriguing to learn about this new sport. It had an appeal to me for being somewhat of an elite sport. It was elite because it was not widely practiced. In fact, there are only 26,000 active fencers in all of USA in 2017.
About mid-term, Mr. Seeley, approached a few of us in class and asked if we would consider trying out for the freshman fencing team. He indicated that we showed promise and that our physique and reaction time was good enough to try out. I was flattered and was looking for some extra curricular activity on campus. Being a commuter, I had some time to kill between classes. Besides, Mr. Seeley was the freshmen coach. Making the team was a shoo-in.
The freshman team consisted of about 15 members. There were three weapons of foil, epee and sabre. Each required different set of skills. The team consisted of 3 starters of each weapon and a tournament is a round robin of the three players and a total of 27 bouts. The team with the majority of bouts won wins the tournament. In addition to the starters, there are 2 other subs of each weapon. If a starter was injured or had a bad day, it was the coach's decision to put a sub in to help out.
I was assigned to sabre mainly because there was a shortage. As it turned out, I was not very good at sabre. Within a short period, the coach decided to switch me to epee. I was tall and have a long reach and also left handed, all that gave me an advantage over my opponents.
Being on the fencing team was a boost to my morale. I made some good friends and also got to go on trips. At that time, there were only a few schools with fencing teams including all the Ivy League schools and the military academies. We would have duel meets, some at home and some away. On these bus trips, we would bond with our teammates. On the overnight trips, we would hang out and play cards and have dinner in a group. Our teammates were always supportive and cheered us on when we were competing on the strip. This was an extra incentive for us to do well. Even though fencing is a one on one competition, the team succeeds or fails on the total accomplishments of all 9 players. If we want to win as a team, we needed to support all our teammates.
The benefits of being on a sports team are many. The lesson of discipline is a hard one to learn. Being on a competitive sports team requires a commitment of time and effort on a weekly basis. Time is a precious commodity. Between classes and homework and leisure, time must be set aside for practice and for tournaments. The discipline required to train and perfect a sport is a good practice for life in the real world. Fencing is a great exercise and a good way to loose weight. The intensity of a 3 minute bout is better than running a half hour on a treadmill.
Some of our teammates were chosen to move up to the Men's Varsity team. The coach of the team was professor Ed Lucia. He was a short, unassuming man but he commanded respect with every action and every word. He was a fencing master of the old school. In those days, a fencing master had to perfect all three weapons. Today, a team would usually have three coaches, one for each weapon.
Professor Lucia had produced many all-Americans over his long illustrious career at CCNY. He was not only our coach but also our mentor. In his many talks to our group of teammates, he provided some philosophies and lessons for life. He taught us only by practice and hard work will we succeed in our bouts and in life. He also taught us about honor and respect and being a good sport, both in winning and losing. We always held our heads high.
My three years on the Varsity team was full of excitement. I was one of the top players and enjoyed a healthy dose of publicity. In my senior and final year, I was a finalist at the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament. This was during the open admissions years and the NCAA placed CCNY on probation. A few of us was disappointed that we were not given the chance to compete for an All-American title.
Fencing provided me with one of my most memorable peak life experience. It was in 1973 at the Martini and Rossi international tournament. I was among about 90 fencers competing at the NYAC. I made it to the semi-final round, the highest achievement in my fencing career. The bout that put me on top was against a much more experienced fencer. In the final touch, I made a beautiful touch to his wrist in his attack and for a moment, the room went silent. A young college senior had upset a ranking veteran, almost unheard of at the time. What happened next was a blur. I lost the next few bouts and did not make the final. In my mind, I have already won.
After graduation, I was immediately hired by IBM and moved upstate to Fishkill NY. Over the next 30 years or so, I enjoyed a great career at IBM. I was promoted to Advisory Engineer after several moves. I ended up at the prestigious Research facility of IBM located in Yorktown NY called the Watson Lab, named after the CEO of IBM, Thomas J. Watson Jr. He was the one that put IBM on the map with the development of the 360 Mainframe computer.
My years working at Watson lab took me all over the world including Israel, Russia, Germany, France and Rome and Taiwan. Everywhere I went, I was able to communicate and interact with the locals partly due to my experience on the fencing team. How did that happen? The skills I learned being in a competitive team sport translate well into the corporate world. Dealing with people of various backgrounds and cultures is very much like dealing with teammates and opponents. We competed fiercely while on the strip but respected each other off the strip.
I retired a few years ago and was able to look back and reflect on my career and life. I had married and raised three wonderful kids. They are all adults now and have their own careers to climb. I had a wonderful career and was very blessed. I attribute part of that to my years at CCNY and being on the fencing team. It gave me the confidence and the knowledge to always follow my instinct. It has served me well and I hope to inspire others to do the same. Joining a sports team is just the beginning of a long journey - a journey full of joy and disappointments, of winning and losing by one touch, and of friendship that lasted a lifetime.
After retirement, I decided to go back to fencing. I joined the Fencers Club and have started practicing again once a week. I met some of my old colleagues who have continued fencing all these years. Some are in their 70s and 80s. I read a book recently on aging and the author described in the introduction of a woman who lived a record 122 years old. At the ago of 85, she took up the sport of fencing… It is one of those sports that can literally last a lifetime.
Some of you freshmen and sophomores can still have that experience. Why not stop by the fencing team practice at the gymnasium and check it out? You might be pleasantly surprised. It will change your life. It changed my life for the better.
My name is Jack Lee, an alumnus of CCNY, class of ‘74. I was also a member of the Men's Varsity Fencing team from 1970-1973. I had a long successful career working for IBM. I am currently retired and have embarked on a mission to help the Women's fencing team at CCNY.
Summer BBQ - 2017
My Team Photo - 1972
My Recent Return to Fencing - 2017 (Along with some of my teammates.)
© 2017 Jack Lee