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A CHAMPION ALONE

By James M. Ferrone

PROLOGUE

"So Mark, are you gonna go out for the baseball team in the spring?" asked the short, thin, lanky boy to his sale companion at the high school lunch table.
"Sure am, Rob," replied Mark Stevens, who was taller, but not much heavier than his companion, Rob Carter. "I don't know if I'm going to try for pitcher or first base, though. I'll have to wait and see who else is trying for those positions."
"Well, everyone I know who's going out for baseball is either wrestling or playing basketball over the winter. They're gonna have the advantage of being in shape once baseball season gets here."
"Yeah, you're probably right. I still think I should have no problem making the team though."
"I dunno, most of those guys already have the advantage of being bigger and stronger than me, Maybe we should do a winter sport to keep in shape this winter."
"What do you mean keep? I've never seen you physically fit in my entire life!"
"Yeah, shut up, wise guy. Seriously, I think we should do a winter sport."
"Ok, well, right away we can knock basketball and volleyball off for you. You're not even tall enough to get on the Ferris wheel at Dorney Park!"
"Right, and although rolling around an the ground with other guys might be your idea of a good time, wrestling's not for me."
"All right, neither of us swims well enough to be on the team, so what's that leave? Track?"
"How about fencing?"
"Fencing? What's that?"
"You know, swordplay, that kind of thing. There's a meeting for new people tomorrow after school. I was thinking of going. Wanna give it a try?"
"Sure, why not? I hate running anyway. Although I don't see how slashing people with swards is gonna get us in any kind of shape."

* * *

"Well, it looks like we have a pretty good turnout this year," announced history teacher/fencing coach Robert Thompson to the room filled with new remits for the fencing team. "It's a good thing, too, because we'll need you. We have a couple holes in the team that need to be filled. But you'll hear more about that later on. Now then, fencing is a sport that, as I'm sure you've guessed, is descended from the classic swordplay and dueling ideas. However, there are no sharp tips or edges in the weapons we use. Everything is scored electrically. There are three weapons: the foil, the epee, and the saber. With the fail, you may only score a point, or touch, on your opponent's lame, which is a special metallic vest worn by foilists. Also, you must gain what is called right-of-way in order to be awarded the touch. You may only score with the tip of the weapon in foil.

"Saber has similar right-of-way rules, although anything above the waist, including the head, is considered to be legal target, and you may scare a touch with any part of the blade.

"Epee is the final weapon. Like foil, you may only score a touch by hitting with the tip of the weapon. However, there is no right-of-way. If both fencers hit at the same time, they are both awarded a touch. Also, the entire body, including the head, hands, legs, and toes are targets.

"Normally, we would start you all off in foil in order to get the basics down before moving on to the other weapons. However, we have a shortage in epee fencers this year, so we need to get some of you right in. You should also know that fencing is a very athletic, aerobic sport, so if you wanted something easy to do, you may as well leave now. It takes a lot of hard practice and dedication to do well in this sport. Central High has a history of having teams that do very well. If you have any further questions about the weapons, come find another fencer or me. You get the weekend to decide which weapon you want to start in, and I'll see you all at three o'clock Monday."

* * *

"So Mark, what sword are you gonna do?" asked Rob as they rode the always treacherous, never-comfortable after-school late bus.
"They call them weapons, not swords, because they're not edged," replied Mark from his aisle seat behind Rob's. Everyone know the late bus driver was completely insane, and many doubted the validity of his license, so everyone fought for the aisle seats in order to avoid having to see what they were about to narrowly miss.
"What difference does it make? I'm going out for foil. That guy Chris said it was the only real weapon." A fortunate cat barely leaped out of the way of the speeding bus.
"Well, I think I might try Epee. I don't think I have the coordination to hit as limited a target as foil and saber have. Besides, I'd never figure out that right-of-way thing." An unfortunate squirrel chose that moment to cross the road.
"At least that way, we wouldn't have to compete against each other." A young mother heard the bus coming and made sure all her children were inside.
"Yeah, it would kind of suck if one of us didn't make the team because of the other. I'd feel really bad for you." Cars coming the opposite way not only stopped, but also pulled onto the shoulder as the yellow juggernaut came to a screeching halt.
"Yeah, right."

CHAPTER I

"Ayyy-laaaa!"
The crowd erupted as Mark's scream signaled that he scored the first touch. Every member of the Central and cross-town-rival Pottersville High fencing teams watched the final and deciding bout of the meet intensely. This was to be the last bout for nine seniors on Central's varsity squad, as well as seven on Potterstown's. All wanted to leave in a blaze of glory. Nobody could have chosen a better way to end it then with Central's Epee captain Mark Stevens fencing Potterstown captain Jason Bosch- They had fenced each other fourteen times in their four high school years, neither able to dominate the other.
"Fencers Ready?" asked the director to the two competitors. "Yes, Sir!" they shouted in anticipatory unison.
"Fence!"
Each fencer shut out the cheers and urgings of the crowd as they came together and clashed blades. Bosch advanced and lunged at Mark's shoulder. Mark, taken only slightly by surprise, reacted by extending his own weapon toward his opponent's shoulder, and both had to settle for a double touch.
Yells and groans came from each side as the fencers reset their distance.
"Stevens, two to one," the director announced as he waited for the crowd to settle. "Fencers ready?"
"Sir!" came the reply.
"Fence!"
Bosch appeared to go for the same motion, and Mark reacted accordingly. However, Bosch learned from the previous touch and stopped short of a lunge, choosing to duck and hit his opponent in the arm.
"Heeyyy!!!"
This time it was Pottersville's turn to explode and cheer, as their fencer had tied it up.
"Fence!"
For almost a minute, neither fencer wanted to commit, both choosing to sit back and wait for his opponent to make a mistake. Finally, Bosch dove at Mark's front foot.
"Touch is good!" stated the director, much to the dismay of the Central team, who created many interesting synonyms for the word, 'director'.
"Fence!"
This time, Mark took the initiative, and went straight for a beat attack to his slightly taller opponent's hand. Bosch, however, avoided the beat and scored on Mark's wrist. Pottersville began celebrating certain victory as the director announced their four to two lead.
Mark looked back at his teammates apologetically, but saw no disappointment on their faces, heard no discouraged groans. Instead, they were all on their feet, screaming for him, chanting their belief that "You can do it!" Feeling the confidence his teammates had flow into him, Mark took the En Garde line with renewed intensity,
"Fence!"
Mark advanced close enough to draw Bosch's attack. Completely ready, Mark brushed aside his fellow competitors blade with his own in a hand-high, point-low seeding parry, and riposted to draw the score to four-three.
"Ayyyyy-laaaa!"
Central's shouts encouraged their epee squad leader even more, as he could barely contain the rush of adrenaline their support was giving him.
"Fence!"
Bosch went for the advance lunge that earlier resulted in a double touch. Mark would not be hit a third time with that tactic, and so took his counterpart's blade with his own and struck Bosch in the stomach.
Mark's shout could not be heard over the deafening noise of the crowd as they prepared for the final touch of their high school careers- Bosch tried in vain to shut the noise out, while Mark allowed the sounds to envelope him, take him over, give him energy. He could make out the voice of every teammate screaming for him if were to concentrate on them, but knowing that someone was rooting for him was enough.
"Score is four-four!" shouted the director as the two sweating competitors saluted each other one last time. "Fence!"
Using all the energy given him by the crowd, Mark leaped forward, then lunged as far as he possibly could, shutting his eyes as he did so. Bosch did just the reverse as his eyes widened, and he attempted to leap out of the way. In vain.
"Ep-o-laaaaaaa!" screamed Mark as his teammates cheered loud enough to shake the building. They swarmed on him as he went to give his opponent a handshake, which spontaneously turned into a hug of great respect, the culmination of four years of competing drawing to a close.

* * *

"Maybe we'll meet again in college," the defeated Bosch said to Mark as the teams lined up and shook hands one last time.
"I hope so," replied Mark. "I still haven't heard from North Carolina, and that's the only school I applied to that has a Division one team."
"You'll get in. If Princeton will accept me, N.C. has to accept you," assured Bosch. "N.C. even gives scholarships for fencing! With your season record, plus finishing third in the state, they have to take you,"
"Well, assuming that's true, I guess we'll be fencing each other at least another dozen times. Good luck!" returned Mark.
"Yeah, to you too. And congratulations, that was one heckuva bout!"
"Thanks, you too," Mark said as he rejoined his still-jubilant teammates to continue the final celebration of his high school fencing career.

Click for Chapter 2
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