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Students learn art of combat at Brookside Elementary

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“It’s like a physical game of chess,” Baldwin mom Annie Doresca said of fencing. In both, she said, participants must anticipate their opponents’ moves before striking. “There’s a lot of strategy involved, and it’s not as easy as just striking with a saber,” she said. “It’s always working the mind.”

The focus required to excel at fencing is only one of the reasons why Doresca has worked to bring the sport to the Baldwin schools. In January, she and instructor Boris Khugrin started a fencing club at Brookside Elementary School, where students have spent the past eight weeks practicing with Khugrin, a native of Ukraine who runs the Island Fencing Academy in Plainview.

Doresca met Khugrin at the academy, where her children attend classes. The two had discussed the idea of starting a program in Baldwin for months before Brookside administrators gave it the thumbs up earlier this year. Khugrin, who has run fencing summer camps in Rockville Centre, said that it’s important to bring fencing into schools. “I believe this is the best way to spread the word about this sport,” he said. “To make it more accessible, you have to go places.”

Khugrin started fencing in Ukraine in 1971, in part because he loved “The Three Musketeers” movie. “All the boys would watch that movie, and then we would fence in the street,” he said. In 1981, he started coaching in Ukraine and continued to teach the sport when he moved to the United States in 1996.

He has coached multiple world champions and Olympic competitors, according to his website, and said he believes Doresca’s daughter, Sariah, 11, could join that list. “I think we may hear about her, perhaps on a national level, in a short period of time,” he said. “She is a very promising, young fencer.”

Sariah has attended the Island Fencing Academy for a year and a half. “It’s fun and aggressive,” she said, “but you also have to make sure you’re doing it the right way and learning the proper technique.” Sariah is a Baldwin Middle School student, but still attends the Brookside club’s weekly practices to help students put on equipment and practice different moves.

She said she would like to see a similar club at the middle and high schools, and supported the idea of a team. “I think that would be a great idea,” she said.

Fencing “teaches discipline, focus and sportsmanship,” Khugrin said. He also called the sport modern, though it has existed since the 17th century. “It’s very modern because of the challenges it presents,” he said. “You need to be very fast and make decisions real quick, just like in modern life.”

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Khugrin taught 12 Brookside students how to lunge at opponents with their sabers — he split the class into two groups and had one side attack before alternating positions. Watching students’ footwork and arm movements, he demonstrated proper technique before having them repeat their moves.

“The kids like what they do here,” Khugrin said. “I think we have very good perspectives here.”

In April, Doresca and Khugrin will host another eight weeks of practice sessions for Brookside students. School officials will then see if it should be brought back in September and, possibly, expanded to other elementary schools.

The goal, Doresca said, is to have the club at all Baldwin public schools and potentially create a team. “You don’t see much fencing in this community,” she said. “I think it would be a great thing to expose young children to.”

Brookside parents, Doresca said, “have been more than enthusiastic” about fencing.