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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

En Garde!!

En Garde!!
Fairfield Fencing Academy opens in Sportsplex complex
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – “This is a dream that I didn’t really know I had,” said thirty-four-year-old John Tejada, the owner of Fairfield Fencing Academy, which opened its doors to the public Saturday in the Sportsplex complex at 85 Mill Plain Road.

The 4,900-square-foot  warehouse-style facility features four World Cup metallic strips – essentially 17-yard long competition alleys. Area residents, including First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who dropped in mid-afternoon to wish Tejada good luck, were invited to experience the facility at no charge, learn about the various available programs and go head-to-head in competition with staff members.

This correspondent took advantage of that offer, suiting up in a mask, glove, thick jacket, metallic vest and mask – along with a foil, or dueling sword, of course. Within each competitor’s outfit, an electric cord is integrated, which hooks to a “reel” that in turn connects to a scoring mechanism with digital readout at the midpoint of each metallic competition alley.

As Tejada’s colleagues and students, several financial backers and the curious streamed in to offer their congratulations, I stepped to the strip to face my opponent, Sarah Bruhl, one of Tejada’s facility counselors. Though she was dimunitive in comparison to my six-foot tall frame, she had five years of training experience. I employed some psychology to try and unsettle her: “You’re going down,” I declared repeatedly.

I would have been highly fortunate to have realized that outcome it turns out, as the numbers on the score display started to spin in her favor. Ultimately, I was able to register just one hit on her, to her 10 on me. I walked from the mat, surprisingly winded and quite sweaty, with resolve to do better the next go round. For now, though, it was more important to capture some background on Tejada.

Born in Brooklyn, the academy owner played basketball in elementary school, and did fencing and swimming in high school, starting in 6th grade. In college at Notre Dame, Tejada fenced all four years, making All-Midwest Conference Foil Squad MVP.

After graduating ND in 1998, he married. Coincidentally, his wife’s sister fenced for a high school team, in Franklin Lakes, NJ. “We went to watch her in a tournament and I started to help her and her team out,” he said. The following year, he was made head coach. In all, he stayed with the school for four years. The first year, under Tejada, the team went 15-1, versus the previous year record of 1-15. In all, the team went 52-5 under Tejada’s tenure, and won four straight district championships, two county championships and a state title. Tejada was also named Coach of the Year four times (twice by the Bergen Record, once by the Newark Star Ledger and once by the New Jersey Coaching Association). In 2010, the Bergen Record named him Coach of the Decade.

While the coaching was a passion, it didn’t pay all the bills. To supplement his income, Tejada worked in television entertainment in NY, for ABC, and for ESPN as an assignment editor.

His first marriage was a false start that ended in 2001. He was fortunate to find a new mate, whom he married July 4, 2009. The couple has a son, Charles, now nine months old.

Tejada was let go from ESPN in July 2010, as his new wife was about to give birth. “I felt screwed,” he said about that time. Fortunately, he was doing some coaching at Wakeman Boys and Girls Club in Southport, from which he was able to springboard into Fairfield’s two high schools as coach of their fencing teams. The past year was a great one, in which the teams finished second and third in the state in men’s and women’s epee. The program was also named #1 in the state for that weapon category.

As Tejada achieved the school successes, he was approached by developer Ken Kleban, to open a club in Wilton. He was all set to do it, then opted not to. “I really wanted to open my own place,” Tejada said.

That wish came true with the backing of John Convertito, Jim Mecca, Beth Love, Mark McGinty, Ken Betza and Cindy Bartoloni – basically all parents of his high school fencing team students and all Fairfielders – who provided financial support.

Together, they contracted for the Sportsplex space in March 2011, thanks to developer Hal Fischel and John Convertito. Renovations on the space started in April and really didn’t finish until this past week.

Tejada is clearly the right man for the job, as students will attest. “I’ve fenced for two years – one of those years under John,” said Alexandra Morrison, 15, at Fairfield Ludlowe High School. “The first year at school, I didn’t have good coaching. When John came in, he really knew what he was talking about and had the experience. He has really made me appreciate the sport and I’ve improved a lot.”

At the same time, students expressed their great delight in having this new facility. “The school was limiting in terms of times we could practice,” said Morrison.

“Fencing is one of those sports you can do all the time,” reflected Tejada. “Old, young, slow, anyone can have fun doing this sport,” he said. “It’s physical chess. The tactics and athletic ability required combines everything from other sports I’ve learned.”

The Fairfield Fencing Academy is open six days a week, Monday through Saturday, from 11am to 9pm. The Academy will accommodate walk-ins and offers camps, classes, private lessons and birthday parties. It is located at 85 Mill Plain Road. Phone: 203-824-1514. On the Net: www.FairfieldFencingAcademy. com

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