VFA-in-Exile Summer Bulletin
August 2020

I hope that everyone is still staying safe and healthy during this pandemic. It is now clear that both Charlotte Central School and Mary Hogan School will be returning this fall on a part-time hybrid model (splitting the student body with only half the kids in school on any give day). I have already heard from CCS that they will not be opening their gyms to sports groups this fall. No offical word from Mary Hogan yet, but the writing is on the wall - the health department guidelines for school reopening essentially say "no indoor sports and no public use of indoor school facilities".

That leaves us with a lot of big questions.
Should we attempt some type of more organized return to fencing in September, beyond the backyard lessons and driveway playdates a few fencers have been doing this summer?
If so, what could that look like?

My thoughts on fencing this fall:
-Despite a very hot day limiting us, the 15 fencers who showed up for my trial outdoor workshop in Middlebury on July 25 seemed positive, enthusiastic, and willing to adapt. My feeling was that fencers were just glad to have weapons in hands and cross blades with their friends, even if that meant doing it outdoors, and wearing face masks.

-I am happy to offer outdoor classes in September and October, weather permitting, if enough fencers sign up for them. By November, it will be too cold. The advantages of fencing outdoors are reduced chance of coronavirus transmission, more flexibility in choice of spaces (parks, schoolyards, tennis courts, even parking lots), and no rent to pay. The disadvantage is obviously that it is weather and daylight dependent, and that concrete surfaces are harder on the joints while grass surfaces are more uneven and slippery, compared to a gym floor. Since outdoor fencing must take place in daylight hours, evening practices will not be possible. I could offer a mix of after-school classes (mainly for kids, but possibly including adults with flexible schedules) and weekend classes (mainly for adults, although teens may be able to participate if there are openings).

-Class sizes will be limited for covid safety. Ideally, I would like to group the club members into training pods of 6-12 fencers (by weapon, and either age or skill level, depends who wants to do this), and you would fence only with the members of your own pod. Practices would be shorter but more intense. Face masks are mandatory whenever you cross blades with another fencer.

-It no longer makes sense to prepay for a 10 week term, as we may go back into lockdown if there is a surge in covid cases, or we may take time off because I am not feeling well (no more holding classes when I have a cold!). I would like to go to a punch card system for all fencers, so that if we shut down you just hold on to your card until we resume (no expiration date). Also, with a punch card, no-one will be tempted to come to class when not feeling well because they already paid for it. I have not yet figured out what to charge for punch cards, but there will be some sort of sliding scale, so that those of you fortunate enough to still be on solid financial ground may opt to partly subsidize those who have been hit in the wallet by the pandemic. No-one will be turned away for financial reasons this fall. In addition to punch cards, there will be some kind of club dues (probably same as last season).

-I would love to welcome back all returning club members, including those who just started fencing last fall or winter. While I encourage everyone to purchase their own set of basic equipment, I will also make loaner equipment available on a check-out basis to those who are not able or not ready to purchase their own (take it home with you, return it cleaned when done with it). Looking to buy some used equipment? Geoff Butler has some available (see below), so check and see if he has your size.

-We will not offer beginner classes this fall. My priority is to keep returning club members fencing. If I have space and time to do it, I may offer beginners the opportunity to start fencing via private lessons (as I have done with a couple students this summer) and then join ongoing group classes.

Help Needed Finding Alternate Practice Spaces
What about during the cold weather months?
We can not count on being invited back to CCS or MHS before they bring all their students back full time, which honestly may not be until we are all vaccinated. However, if we are training in small pods of 6-12 fencers, we can make do with smaller spaces. In my wildest dreams, one of you has a large (minimum 40 ft x 30 ft usable open space), heated, empty outbuilding that you could offer as a temporary home. If you have one and it is located anywhere between Burlington and Brandon, now is the time to speak up! Alternatively, I need help from all of you to call on your personal connections. Is there a church you (or a close friend or family member) belongs to that has a social hall? Does your grand-dad belong to the VFW or the Grange? (thank you Rick for already putting me in touch with a friend who is a member of the E. Charlotte grange!). Do you have a personal connection to a dance studio, town hall, etc? If there is a personal connection to a club member, those who manage the space are more likely to trust us to take care of it, and offer it to us for an affordable rent with a flexible schedule. Both Mary Hogan and Charlotte Central School charge us around $10 per hour. On an emergency basis, we could pay a little more, but not much. In terms of locations, I will consider anything within 10 miles of CCS, anything within 10 miles of Middlebury, and anything roughly equidistant from Charlotte and Middlebury (Vergennes, Ferrisburg, New Haven, Bristol). I really really appreciate help with the legwork here - if it is in your town, perhaps you could find out if the space has re-opened to public use (many churches are still holding services remotely, for example) and whether they might be amenable to renting it, before suggesting it to me. If we do not find any space for winter use, we are likely looking at running outdoor classes through October, and resuming again when the weather permits in the spring.

Return to Fencing Questionnaire for Club Members
Before I put a lot of time and energy into planning how to keep the VFA alive, I would really like to know how all of you are feeling in regard to returning to group fencing classes this fall. I have prepared a table for you to fill in to help me with this. Within the next 2 weeks, please visit the link and fill in the table (if you do not, I will assume you are not ready or not interested in fencing this fall). On the table, you will be asked to fill in your name (first and last), age (for minors, adults don't need to), and then check off a series of options regarding location (near Charlotte, near Middlebury, in between) and your comfort level with outdoor vs indoor classes. For each option, put Y if you would probably do it, N if you would probably not do it, and M (maybe) if undecided or it depends on the specifics. Here is the link to the table:

We Need to Talk!
Partly because I miss you all, and partly because I really want us to chat about our options for returning to fencing this fall, I invite you to a Zoom meeting this Monday, August 10, at 7:30 p.m
Here is the link:
I invite any fencers and parents of junior fencers who want to discuss the future of the VFA to drop in to the meeting. If you can't make the meeting, but you have thoughts to share, feel free to email me.

What about tournaments?
Most of us love our fun Green Mt Division tournaments, and they give us a goal to train for. US Fencing has given permission for local tournaments to resume, in our case, meaning those open to Green Mt Division members only, no out of state or Canadian visitors. However, GMD tournaments are held entirely in public spaces (schools, UVM, rec centers), unlike in some larger suburban and urban divisions where there are fencing clubs which lease private dedicated spaces. Until those gyms re-open to us for rental, tournaments might not be an option. Also, without out of state competitors to increase our numbers, we may not be able to afford renting a gym even if one is open to us. But maybe we can squeeze in an outdoor tournament before it gets too cold? For now, fencing will be about improving our skills and just enjoying the sport with friends on a day to day basis. Tournaments will come back eventually!

Other News
Due to the pandemic and his own health concerns regarding exposure, Geoff Butler has decided to retire, both from coaching and from his work with developmentally disabled adults. This is the end of a long and varied career for Geoff (ask him about all the jobs he has held over the years!), and it's sad that it is ending with no acknowledgement or celebration. The door will always be open for him to return to the VFA in some capacity in the future if he feels safe doing so and finds he misses fencing. In the meantime, Geoff is cleaning out his garage, and has a lot of equipment to sell off at discounted prices. He has masks, jackets, chest protectors, dry and electric epees, and some scoring equipment (I already have dibs on the electronic trainer he leant me!). He says no reasonable offer will be refused, he mostly wants to see things get used. If you are interested (or just want to stay in touch with him), his email is coachgeoffbutler@gmail.com.

I still have a bunch of 2020 Champlain Cup t-shirts that are not yet spoken for. I will feel much better about the cancelled Middlebury Open when I know all of these shirts are going to good homes. You can help clear out my attic and help the club financially at the same time by buying one for $15. If you are buying one, you can pick it up from me next time you see me. You can pay by check, or use my new paypal link at
To reserve yours, please sign up here:

There have been various fantasy-medieval memes circulating regarding pandemic terminology, like instead of quarantined, you are "exiled for the good of the realm", and instead of self-isolating, you "have taken a vow of solitude until the pestilence is banished from the land". Saw one recently that nicely solves our problem of confusing fencing mask and face mask. Instead of "where's my mask, I'm going shopping", say "bring forth my face cloak, I must obtain provisions!". From now on, we should call the mask that goes under the mask the "face cloak". I have been using the Radical Fencing Active Dome Mask (I mean face cloak....). What I like about this model is that it is made of a sports-specific, quick drying/wicking fabric, and it is shaped so that it stands a little away from your mouth, so it feels less suffocating during exercise than one that presses on your nostrils and lips. I prefer wearing mine inside out (hot tip from the interwebs!) so that the soft liner fabric does not get sucked into my mouth when I breathe. They go for $16 including shipping, from https://radicalfencing.com/products/active-dome-mask. I also have on order two face cloaks made with runners in mind, one from Adidas and one from Reebok, to try out. I am going to experiment with using those with a mask bracket (a plastic insert that makes it stand away from your mouth, advertised mainly for avoiding smearing your lipstick, although why anyone would wear lipstick under a face cloak is a great mystery to me). I will let you know how I like them. Anyone else find a good face cloak for under the fencing mask? By the way, please do not use face cloaks with exhalation valves for fencing. Those are designed to protect you from dust (like for woodworkers) but do nothing to protect other people from the droplets you breathe out, which is the main point of our covid face cloaks.

For the rest of the summer, I plan to continue offering backyard fencing lessons at my house in Addison, weather permitting. I schedule these on a week to week basis based on the weather forecast, any time between 10 a.m and dusk. Where possible, I try to schedule those who fence the same weapon in pairs, so that one has a lesson, the pair do a half hour of bouting together, and then the other has a lesson. Lessons are $25 for one, or a book of 5 for $100. It has been a pleasure to work with Rick, Miranda, Adam, Karen, and Torrey so far, as well as beginners LeRoy and Silas. I would be happy to expand the circle if anyone else is interested.