Fencing Seeks to Remain Varsity

Faced with the daunting task of raising over $5 million in operating costs and an endowment, Stanford Fencing looks to preserve its history and ensure its future as a Division I Varsity sport.

Stanford’s endowment fell 27 percent between the summers of 2008 and 2009.  In response to the economic downturn and falling endowment, President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy chose to sharply cut costs in an effort to immediately begin offsetting the endowment’s losses. Soon after the announcement of the new budget cutting approach, it was still unclear how deep the cuts to athletics would be.

Currently, only one of Stanford’s varsity programs faces the very real prospect of losing its NCAA Varsity status.  Facing the difficult task of raising $250,000 in operating costs for the 2009-2010 year and an additional $5 million in principal for its endowment, Men’s and Women’s Fencing will likely become club teams should Stanford Fencing not become financially self-sustaining.

Upon learning that the team needed to raise so much money to survive, supporters came together to form the Save Stanford Fencing Committee.  Melody Lowman, Committee Chair and mother of fencer Chris Lowman, ’10, said, “The Committee believes we can raise the money to support the Fencing Program.  What we need is time.”

The committee’s fundraising efforts include approaching likely individual donors, hosting bake sales, and organizing a silent auction.  In the short run, the operating costs must be covered, but building an endowment will require a major infusion of capital.  It is the endowment that will allow the team to continue operating without having to raise operating funds each year.

Thus far, the committee has raised about $43,000 for operating costs.  The current endowment stands at about $200,000, which was initially endowed by the family of Jacob Levitan several years ago.  Therefore, the committee has not yet met their fundraising target, but it is still driving itself forward.

Lowman maintains that outreach through information dissemination and personal connections will be key to meeting their funding goals.  “We have a constantly expanding web site and a Facebook Cause Page. We are trying to educate people about fencing by holding free fencing events such as two through Palo Alto Parks and Recreation, and others for local schools and San Francisco Regional Mensa Children, and Lyceum of Santa Clara County,” she offers as examples.

Furthermore, Lowman said that coverage in the news media is bringing awareness to Stanford Fencing’s predicament.  In an article about the University’s efforts to recover its endowment, Stanford magazine has covered Stanford Fencing’s fundraising efforts and American Fencing magazine will feature Stanford Fencing in its upcoming issue.

While all of this illustrates what the committee is doing to save Stanford Fencing, it does not fully capture why its members are so dedicated to their cause.  The committee’s website cites numerous reasons why individuals should work to save fencing.  They range from the sport’s tradition here at Stanford, its accessibility to various types of people, the program’s high quality level, and its ability to draw top-notch fencers from the Ivies to Stanford.

Given the fact that individuals compose the teams, this final point may be the one that non-fencing members of the Stanford community can best see.  Stanford’s standard of excellence attracts the best students.  Stanford’s fencing program is no different in that it additionally attracts the best fencers.

The nation’s top women’s epee fencing recruit, Francesca Bassa, ’13, reflects, “I chose Stanford over great schools like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and [the University of Pennsylvania] precisely for its unique environment of openness and flexibility. I am an out-of-the-box thinker and a fencer as well.”

For women’s captain Ashley Titan, ’12, Stanford’s academics allowed her to continue research that she had begun in high school.  She says, “In addition to fencing, I was most excited about the undergraduate research opportunities and the close working relationship between the faculty and students. I wanted to continue to conduct biomedical engineering research focusing on the bone and osteoporosis.”

The program’s commitment to excellence and development mirrors both the athletic department’s and the University’s commitment to excellence and development.  It is the difficult reality of budget cuts that excellent positions, organizations, and entire programs often fall by the wayside.  However, the Save Stanford Fencing Committee’s sheer determination to act and rescue what it views as a worthwhile contribution to the University illustrates a commitment to the individuals who help drive Stanford’s success as an institution.

Bassa says, “I sincerely hope that Stanford will continue [to] strengthen the varsity fencing program and overcome whatever obstacles are on the way and move forward, not cut and run. The financial impact of our program is minimal compared to [those of] all other varsity sports at Stanford. Our fencing tradition at Stanford, our present, and our future are great and hopefully we will continue.”

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