LOWELL | There's a bit of swordplay going on at Lowell High School, and it's not for a theater production.
Last year, the Red Devil Fencing Club was formed, and now its members are rattling their sabers, ready for their first competitive season.
Kendra McPheeters-Neal, an English teacher and literacy coach, and Marcia Skurka, a business department teacher, are the instructors behind the unique offering.
"The closest school offering fencing is Culver (Military Academy)," McPheeters-Neal said.
The RDFC has a probationary membership this year in the Great Lakes Conference for high school fencing. Their first conference competition is Nov. 23 in Waukesha, Wis.
The four remaining tournaments for the season are in Winnetka, Woodstock, Chicago and Culver.
Sam Kouder, an 18-year old senior, joined RDFC last year.
"I like the idea of a sport that is both agility and mind. I like the strategy; it's like chess," he said. "History Club (of which he is a member at LHS) is engaging, but this is physical, and I'd like to compete against others," he said.
Forest Eliou plays sax in the marching band, but made time to join fencing last year. The 16-year old junior said he has no interest in traditional team sports.
"It seemed like fun. ... This is something I want to continue doing," he said.
Eliou has already won two medals in fencing in junior varsity non-conference matches and said the quick, tactical moves make it enjoyable.
Fencing has long been an interest of hers, McPheeters-Neal said.
"I was in sixth grade when I saw a story on a fencing club in Indianapolis on TV," she said. She later fenced at Purdue University, tried to establish fencing at her previous teaching post, and is thrilled Tri-Creek approved it.
Skurka's fencing interest stems from her daughter, who fenced for Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights before graduating.
Currently, the RDFC offers two blades — saber and foil — but is focused on adding the third blade, epee, soon.
"This is good for the kids. Our kids have grown so incredibly," Skurka said.
There are 14 students fencing now.
"We want to be up to 16 for competition," McPheeters-Neal said. It is open to freshman through senior year students, male and female. Students may try the club for two weeks to learn if they want to commit, she said.
"Fencing is such a wonderful stress reliever. Students' classes are very rigorous. They have outside jobs," McPheeters-Neal said. "An intense fencing bout can burn 700 calories in one hour. It's good exercise," she said.
Getting started was made easier by the Summit City Fencing Club in Fort Wayne which closed and gave all the gear and equipment they had to the Red Devils.
Fifteen-year-old sophomore Bailey Kien joined the RDFC last year after her interest was piqued during summer camp at Culver Military Academy.
"I'm so glad to be able to have fencing here. ... It's definitely worth it," she said.
McPheeters-Neal said, "We hosted our own JV tourney in April. Forty fencers showed up. ... We earned five medals."