ACFA Head Coach Chuck Slaughter 

Message to Fencers

May 2012

     I have just finished up my second year as Head Coach at ACFA and, to say the least, it has been an interesting time, with a lot of changes to the fencing landscape in Amarillo and West Texas.  I have been blessed by my association with the fencers and their families at Amarillo College.  In that light, I thought I would share some of the things that have meant so much to me over my years at AC.

     (1)  My friendship with MY fencing coach, Richard Howard.  Richard is, without a doubt, one of the most unusual persons I have ever met.  When I toldtravelled the world collecting butterflies and moths, was the curator for a natural history museum, is a classical pianist who composes beautiful music and, who, in his free time, volunteered as a fencing coach at Amarillo College, most of them are either amazed or express their belief that I am making that stuff up.  One of the most heartbreaking things that I have seen is the deterioration of Richard's physical body due to the ravages of Parkinson's Disease.   This disease did, for a while, cause Richard to become angry and pessimistic about his future.  However, in recent months, I have seen a resurgence of Richard's spirit in the face of his illness.  It gives me hope that my coach remains undefeated, even while suffering physically.  I know that everyone at AC misses his presence at the fencing salle.  While his title may now be Head Coach Emeritus at ACFA, he really holds the status of being the founder of the fencing program at AC.  On behalf of everyone at AC, "Thank you Richard."

     (2)  The children's fencing program at Amarillo College.  In 2001, I asked permission from AC to start a children's fencing class for kids ages 8 to 12 years old.  I did this because I was tired of telling the children of older fencers that AC only had fencing for people who were 13 years of age or older.  The look of disappointment on their faces drove me to an act that has had great ramifications on fencing at AC and, in retrospect, severely reduced my available time to spend with my own family.   I had only been fencing competitively for two years at that time and, honestly, I was not prepared to be a fencing coach at that time.  I was still learning the basics of fencing myself.  Luckily, Coach Howard was actively coaching the adults at AC and in the club so I continued to learn as I began to teach.  In that first class in the Fall of 2001, we had about 12 children enrolled.  Among those fencers were Jered Wilkinson and Lauryn Stewart.  Jered is now one of two A rated fencers in our division and currently serves as a Senior Teaching Assistant (Red Shirt) for me at Amarillo College.  Lauryn left fencing when she hit her teenage years but has recently come back on a limited basis, wanting to learn this wonderful sport all over again.  I love them both for they represent what fencing brings to young people.  The children's program is now the lifeblood of ACFA.  The vast majority of our competitive fencers got their start in the beginning childen's fencing class at AC.  Without that class, ACFA would very likely be a small competitive club that appealed to a very small group of people in the community.

     (3)  Juleah Nusz.   Juleah is important to me because she gave me confidence in my ability to be a coach on a national and international level.  Admittedly, this girl was easy to coach.  She has a drive to succeed that is unmatched.  She practiced at home on her own and she worked hard at the salle.  She believed in her own ability to beat anyone once she was on the piste and, when she lost, she was never happy (even when she was clearly the weaker fencer).  She pushed me to better my skills as a coach.  I remember when I used to beat Juleah.  (It was a long time ago.)  Then she gradually met and exceeded my ability to compete effectively against her on the strip.  So I then started analyzing her weaknesses by watching her at national events and on tape so I could imitate those actions at practice and force her to correct those things that caused her to lose.  Juleah started winning national medals when she was 12 years old.  When she ended the fencing season number 1 on the Youth 14 points list, I was proud.   When she proved it was not a fluke by ending a year or so later as number 7 on the Cadet points list, I was cautiously optimistic that Juleah could go further than I had originally believed possible.  Everyone knows the story  now.  She continued to win Gold, Silver, Bronze and various finalist medalists on the national stage until she won the 2009 USFA National Championship in Junior Women's Epee in Grapevine, Texas.  That coach's medal, which hangs in my office right now, brought national recognition and respect to ACFA.  It brought me credibility in the coaching world.  While I am still not the elite professional coach that I would like to be, I no longer doubt my ability to coach effectively on the national stage.  Thanks Juleah!

     (4)  The family of ACFA.  ACFA is my second family.  I spend a minimum of 12 hours each week at the fencing salle at AC teaching fencing.  I have become close to not only the fencers but their families as well.  I have been the physical education teacher for a number of home schooled fencers and for some at public schools as well.  I have seen many of my fencers grow up and leave home, going out into the world to attend college (Caitlin Carroll, Cole Wrampelmeier, Calvin Wilkinson, Stephen Brown, Evan Burner, Noah Burner, Ben Simpson, my own son Jared Slaughter, among others).  Some left or are leaving to serve their country in the military (Danny Tickner, Gene Branum).   Others left to take their place in the work force (Kevin O'Neill, Cole Koumalats, Sam Wakefield, and more).  Some have moved away when they or their parents have taken new positions elsewhere (Christy "Gwyn" Adams, Gene, Stephanie & Rebecca Cunningham, Hans Mylant, Trey Sluder, John Miller, Jacob Miller).  Some fencers have decided that fencing simply did not fit into their life (Alex Ragsdale, Travis Conway, my daughter Courtney).  Each one of them that left, for whatever reason, brought a sense of loss to me.  It felt like one of my own children had left home and things just would not be the same.  They are my family and, even though they may not be with ACFA any longer, I try to keep up with them as best I can.  Those who are at ACFA right now I believe will attest to the fact that I want more for them than to just be a good competent fencer.  I want them to be a good person that is well rounded, confident and successful.  The family of ACFA is why I continue to coach.  Life just would not be the same without you.