Local Fencing Club Opens New Facility With New Name and Focus

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Formerly Mid-South Fencers’ Club, Forge Fencing Academy and Club seeks to demonstrate equity through diverse leadership and participation

Forge Fencing Academy and Club
Anna Schikore, 18, and Nora Xie, 13, spar inside Forge Fencing’s temporary space at Now Church. 

By Amanda MacLaren | Photography by John Michael Simpson

Jennifer Oldham opened Mid-South Fencers’ Club on Broad Street in 2008 “because other clubs wouldn’t allow women coaches to develop professionally,” she says. Fast forward 14 years, and “as COVID-19 descended, I was coaching at a World Cup in Athens, Greece. I had proven to myself women can coach athletes to this level. Mid-South achieved its mission and vision.”

This past year, she reenvisioned her business, creating Forge Fencing Academy and Club and Forge Teams. “Optimizing physical health [during the pandemic] was obvious, but the unattended civil rights issues brought unease to my consciousness,” Jen says. “While finding ways to sustain my family, I explored and consulted about different responses to what the community as a whole needed. I dared to dream of a more sustainable business model and came to the conclusion to form a nonprofit organization in order to build leaders and foster equity through sport participation.” 

Fencers receive training to grow their technical and tactical skills at The Academy, while The Club meets a variety of athletes’ interpersonal and developmental needs, and hosts tournaments, summer camps and training groups as they form and evolve. The Teams program focuses on leadership and equity in order to build sustainability and inclusivity. “I want to prove competitive communities can make inclusive decisions, look beyond their own self-interests, and work toward fairness and justice while not sacrificing excellence and strength,” Jen says. “To work on relationships for a better world is a hard process – thus, the name Forge.” 

Forge Fencing Academy and Club
Sabres and other equipment are available for use through Forge’s programs.

Along with the new name comes a new facility, which opened in mid-February at 610 N. Duke St. The space, Jen says, will house the best training technology that exists today. “We will have a mezzanine for viewing, a small kitchen, study area, lockers, gathering spaces, four bathrooms (including one shower), one adapted parafencing (wheelchair) strip and 16 full-size fencing strips built into a specially designed floor,” she says. “There will be nothing else like it in the area!” 

Though the space is still a work in progress, the efforts to achieve the organization’s goals are already underway. “We want to pay our staff fairly, while keeping fees affordable,” Jen says. “We want to build leadership skills through sport participation. Relaunching our national travel team, including our paraprogram with adaptive fencing, is in progress. We want to create pathways for scholarships, which could allow more access to higher education opportunities. I also have a vision for a countywide teen leadership program interconnecting athletes from all sports at public, private and charter schools in Durham.” 

Forge Fencing Academy and Club

The current teen leadership program at Forge focuses solely on fencing community and creating community-based projects connected to sport participation – including building up high school league participation in the state – while students learn from one another. Its first meeting included more than a dozen participants from four different North Carolina counties and represented six different fencing programs. Its next meeting takes place Saturday, March 12, from 3-6 p.m. “Outreach is central to the launch of Forge Teams,” Jen says. “We are partnering to connect with kids and teens who would benefit from our community and coaching, and want to fence. Several high schools in the Triangle are working to optimize access to our sport, and we are partnering with anyone and everyone whose mission aligns with ours. Both Duke and UNC have varsity fencing programs; this facility could easily be the first home to a fencing program at North Carolina Central University.” 

Forge will also host a summer camp program in its new space for 7- to 17-year-olds beginning June 13. Kids can “expect to have fun and work at exploring [their] competitive nature,” Jen says. “So much of reopening this past year has been about learning how to be in social groups safely. Our students are so grateful, engaged and happy to be doing something they love.” 

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Amanda MacLaren

Amanda MacLaren is the executive editor of Durham Magazine. Born in Mesa, Arizona, she grew up in Charlotte and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in journalism. She’s lived in Durham for eight years. When she’s not at work, you can usually find her with a beer in hand at Fullsteam, Dain’s Place or Bull City Burger or getting takeout from Guasaca.
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