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The Origin of the Junior Olympics

The 2016 Junior Olympic Fencing Championships, Cleveland, Ohio.

Every February, the top Junior and Cadet fencers in the United States gather to compete in what is essentially the National Championships for Under-20 fencers: The Junior Olympics. But this important and prestigious tournament would have never existed if it wasn’t for the vision and determination of one man.

The Junior Olympic Fencing Championships were the brainchild of Rev. Lawrence Calhoun, a name many in the Southern California fencing community will recognize, as he was the fencing coach at Chaminade High School in West Hills from 1987 to 2006 and the founder of the Masque De Fer fencing club. But in 1966, Father Calhoun was just starting his teaching career at Notre Dame High School in Niles, Ill., when the school’s athletic director asked the staff for suggestions for club activities for the students. Father Calhoun suggested fencing.

Father Calhoun had never been a coach nor a competitive fencer, but he had become acquainted with the sport while serving as chaplain of the fencing team at the University of Notre Dame during his time as a graduate student, there. Much to his surprise, the high school AD instructed him to form a club immediately. So he sent out a call and six students signed up.

Father Calhoun and his fledgling team began frequenting the local YMCA, where his students learned the fundamentals of fencing and he learned to coach. His team lost all of their tournaments that first year, but the next year they went 5-8. By the 4th year the varsity team finished the season with a 15-0 record and were Conference Champions. Before long, Father Calhoun became the head of high school fencing in Illinois, as well as Chairman of the Illinois Division of the Amateur Fencers League of America (now called USA Fencing).

The FIE had been conducting a Junior World Championships every year since 1950. Junior fencers in the US who wished to compete had to go through a very restrictive process that required them to first qualify through their Sectional Championships, then finish in the top three at the US Nationals in June. But the Junior Worlds didn’t take place until April of the next year—ten months later! During this long lag time, it was not uncommon for the young fencers to lose their competitive edge. In addition, fencers who were otherwise qualified, often were over 20 by the time the Junior Worlds came around, so they couldn’t compete. In 1966 the AFLA took the unusual step of changing the Under-20 event at the US Nationals to Under-19. No other country in the world had such an age category.

Father Calhoun could see that the US was not going to get its best representation in international Junior competition unless the system was improved. He came to strongly believe that there was a need for a second National Championships, just for Under-20 fencers, that would take place a few weeks before the Junior Worlds.

Father Calhoun began attending the meetings of the AFLA in New York to present his big new idea, but no one paid much attention to him. The meetings were dominated by mundane budgetary matters. Just as the business portions of the meetings were wrapping up, he would have to catch his plane back to Chicago. This pattern continued for two years without success.

Then, an act of Congress gave Father Calhoun the opportunity he had been waiting for. In 1971, The Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect, establishing, among other things, a permanent holiday on the 3rd Monday of every February (which eventually became known as “Presidents’ Day”). That meant there would be a 3-day weekend every year, just two months before the Junior World Championships—perfect timing for a qualification tournament.

Armed with this new angle, he presented his idea once again and this time got the response he had been hoping for. He was named ‘National Junior Olympic Development Chairman,’ and published his proposal in the Nov. 1971 and Jan. 1972 issues of American Fencing. It was too late in the year to take advantage of the Presidents’ Day holiday, so the first Junior Olympic competition was set for April.

On Friday, April 7, 1972, at 9:00 AM, two saber fencers took to the piste and fenced the first bout of the first-ever Junior Olympic Championships. The strips were set up in the gym and cafeteria of the high school where Father Calhoun taught. The NCAA Champions had just taken place at nearby University of Illinois Circle Campus a few weeks earlier, so all of the necessary equipment was readily available. The electric scoring machines were powered by 48 car batteries provided by Sears. The competition, which lasted 3 days, consisted of four Under-20 events: Men’s Foil, Men’s Epee, Men’s Saber, and Women’s Foil. There were a total of 98 entries from 25 divisions. Most of the competitors were housed and fed by local parents.

Father Calhoun presents a trophy to Chris Jennings who won the Junior Men’s Foil and Epee events at the first Junior Olympics in Niles, Ill., April 7-9, 1972.

Los Angeles was the host for the second Junior Olympics in 1973, which were expanded to include Under-16 and Under-14 events. A gifted young fencer from the Los Angeles Athletic Club named Bradley Thomas won the Under-14 gold medals in all three weapons! He was coached by Delmar Calvert. (You can see a recent interview with both of them, here.)

But an incident took place at this competition that put an end to any Under-14 fencing at the Junior Olympics for many years to come. As Father Calhoun recounts, “In a saber bout in which [AFLA president] Steve Sobel was directing, one of the fencers—a really obnoxious little kid—just cussed out Steve, he cussed out his coach and he cussed out his parents! So for several years, this age group was considered too immature.”

In the following years the format settled in on Under-20 and Under-16 events (changed to Under-17 in the late 80’s), although Under-15, Under-13, and Under-11 events were included for a few years in the early 90’s. Since the addition of team events for Junior fencers in 2010, the program has remained consistent.

The Junior Olympics have earned their place an essential element in the development of world-class fencers in the United States. USFA Vice President Dr. Ralph Zimmermann called the Junior Olympics “the single most important achievement in the entire history of our organization.” In the summer of 2010, Father Calhoun was inducted into the US Fencing Hall of Fame.

The next Junior Olympic Championships will be held in Memphis, Tennessee, on Feb. 16-19, 2018. SoCal fencers who wish to compete should attend the SoCal 2017-2018 JO Qualifiers which will be held at the Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. The top 25% will qualify.

Junior Olympic Champions - Junior Men

YEARMEN’S FOILDIVISIONMEN’S EPEEDIVISIONMEN’S SABERDIVISION
2017Andrew MachovecLong IslandAlan TemiryaevMetro NYCKhalil ThompsonMetro NYC
2016Nolen ScruggsMetro NYCJack BradfordColoradoKarol MetrykaNew Jersey
2015Julian KnodtNorthern CAAnton PiskovatskovGulf CoastAndrew DoddoMetro NYC
2014Axel KieferKentuckyAlexander EldeibVirginiaEdward ChinMetro NYC
2013Michael DudeyGulf CoastAriel SimmonsGulf CoastPeter PakLong Island
2012Robert NunziatoMetro NYCMatthew McGrathArizonaJohn HallstenMt. Valley
2011Michael DudeyGulf CoastPeregrine BadgerNew EnglandKaito StreetsNorthern CA
2010Gabriel AcunaGulf CoastTyler AdamsGeorgiaWill SpearHuds-Berks
2009Alexander PenslerIllinoisEric GurnowskiNew JerseyBryan CheneyTennessee
2008David WilletteNorthern CAPeter FrenchColoradoDaniel BakNew Jersey
2007Ariel DesmetOregonSean HarderColumbus OHAleksander OchockiNew Jersey
2006Nicholas ChinmanColoradoTeddy SherrillMetro NYCAleksander OchockiNew Jersey
2005Kai Itameri-KinterNew EnglandNicholas ChinmanColoradoRaskyrie DavidsonMetro NYC
2004Clinton KershawMt. ValleyDwight SmithMetro NYCPatrick GhattasOregon
2003Michael GalliganGulf CoastBenjamin SolomonNorthern OHDavid DouvilleGeorgia

Junior Olympic Champions - Junior Women

YEARWOMEN’S FOILDIVISIONWOMEN’S EPEEDIVISIONWOMEN’S SABERDIVISION
2017Delphine DevoreConnecticutKasia NixonSouthern CAVeronica CzyzewskiNew Jersey
2016Sylvie BinderWest-RockKasia NixonSouthern CARyan JenkinsOrange Coast
2015Ashley TsueKansasAmanda SiricoCapitolMalia HeeOregon
2014Miranda LitzingerCentral CADariya YefremenkoNew JerseyMalia HeeOregon
2013Iman BlowMetro NYCAmanda SiricoCapitolClaudia KulmaczNew Jersey
2012Nicole McKeeLong IslandAnna Van BrummenGulf CoastAdrienne JarockiMetro NYC
2011Jacqueline DubrovichNew JerseyAudrey AbendMetro NYCDesirae MajorIndiana
2010Mona ShaitoNorth TXIsabella BarnaOregonEliza StoneIllinois
2009Margaret LuConnecticutKatharine HolmesCapitolEmily ChengColumbus OH
2008Lee KieferKentuckyCourtney HurleySouth TXMonica AksamitNew Jersey
2007Kylei McGillMetro NYCNeely Brandfield-HarveyGulf CoastCaroline VlokaMetro NYC
2006Emily CrossMetro NYCCourtney HurleySouth TXDaria SchneiderMetro NYC
2005Doris WilletteNorthern CACourtney HurleySouth TXIbtihaj MuhammadNew Jersey
2004Jacqueline LeahyMetro NYCKeri ByertsOregonValerie ProvidenzaOregon
2003Metta ThompsonWestern NYCatherine SzarwarkTennesseeValerie ProvidenzaOregon

Junior Olympic Champions - Cadet Men

YEARMEN’S FOILDIVISIONMEN’S EPEEDIVISIONMEN’S SABERDIVISION
2017Joon PaikNew JerseyRobert HondorNew EnglandDaniel SolomonLong Island
2016Michael LiCentral CAAdrien Thein-SandlerSouthern CAAndrew SunGeorgia
2015Geoffrey TouretteCentral CAMick YamanakaLong IslandAndrew SunGeorgia
2014Nolen ScruggsMetro NYCTristan KruegerOregonKarol MetrykaNew Jersey
2013Thomas DudeyGulf CoastClinton RodellVirginiaIan JonesOrange Coast
2012Axel KieferKentuckyMatthew McGrathArizonaAndrew MackiewiczNew England
2011Nobuo BravoNorthern CATrevor ShepardSouthern CAChristofer AhnGulf Coast
2010Brian KaneshigeNew JerseyAlex HouseNew EnglandWill SpearHuds-Berks
2009Alex ChiangGeorgiaCornelius SaundersWest-RockMichael TomMetro NYC
2008David WilletteNorthern CAMichael RaynisSouthern CABryan CheneyTennessee
2007Frederick Bentley IIIKentuckyJoshua DolezalIndianaHarrison MahaffeySouthern CA
2006Miles Chamley-WatsonMetro NYCMichael ElfassyMetro NYCAleksander OchockiNew Jersey
2005Nicholas ChinmanColoradoGraham WicasPhiladelphiaRaskyrie DavidsonMetro NYC
2004Brendan MeyersMetro NYCNicholas ChinmanColoradoJonathan BerkowskySouth Jersey
2003Clinton KershawMt. ValleyTeddy SherrillMetro NYCJonathan BerkowskySouth Jersey

Junior Olympic Champions - Cadet Women

YEARWOMEN’S FOILDIVISIONWOMEN’S EPEEDIVISIONWOMEN’S SABERDIVISION
2017May TieuNew JerseyGabrielle HillMinnesotaEdith JohnsonGeorgia
2016Lauren ScruggsMetro NYCGreta CandrevaHuds-BerksEdith JohnsonGeorgia
2015Natalie YangNew JerseyBelinda MoOrange CoastViolet MichelNew England
2014Morgan PartridgeNew EnglandTatijana StewartUtah-S.IdahoMalia HeeOregon
2013Quinn CrumNew EnglandJennifer HorowitzSouthern CALillian ChuCentral CA
2012Kaila BudofskyMetro NYCAmanda SiricoCapitolAlexa AntipasLong Island
2011Mona ShaitoNorth TXAudrey AbendMetro NYCFrancesca RussoNew Jersey
2010Mona ShaitoNorth TXAshley SeversonMetro NYCJulia AbelskyGeorgia
2009Lee KieferKentuckyKatharine HolmesCapitolFrancesca RussoNew Jersey
2008Lee KieferKentuckyFrancesca BassaGulf CoastJoanna CichomskiIllinois
2007Hayley ReeseKentuckyFrancesca BassaGulf CoastMonica AksamitNew Jersey
2006Lindsay KnauerSouth JerseyCourtney HurleySouth TXEliza StoneIllinois
2005Jessica WackerCentral CAChrista FrenchNorth TXCaroline VlokaNew Jersey
2004Doris WilletteNorthern CACourtney HurleySouth TXDaria SchneiderNew England
2003Doris WilletteNorthern CAKeri ByertsWestern NYDaria SchneiderNew England

Jim can't remember a time when he wasn't fascinated by fencing. He currently serves as the Treasurer of the SoCal Division.

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