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Willmar Community Ed offers fencing

Fencing instructor Maria Benford, left, watches as Milyn Markkanen, 12, center, of Willmar duels with a Myles Kinney, 10, of Willmar Friday during the Willmar Community Education and Recreation's Fencing For Fun class held at Roosevelt School. Participants learned the fundamentals of safe swordplay and fencing using three Olympic weapons, the Foil, Epee and Saber.

WILLMAR -- While they may not be Olympic-ready yet, approximately 15 Willmar area youth spent the past week learning the sport of fencing.

One of the many camps offered by Willmar Community Education and Recreation this summer, the fencing camp was taught by Maria Benford, owner and main coach of Minnesota SwordPlay of Burnsville.

Throughout the five-day camp, Benford taught the students about the history, techniques, equipment and language of fencing, while also making sure they were having fun and adding a little competition at the end of the week.

"It's a sport, so there's exercise, which is wonderful," Benford said. "But it's a mental game, so the brain strategies are even more important for the kids. I've always thought of it as physical chess."

Benford, who is an internationally-trained and -ranked fencer, has taught fencing for the past 16 years, including at St. Catherine University in St. Paul and throughout the Midwest with her company.

"Teaching younger kids is a lot different from teaching adults," Benford said. "Adults tend to be more technical. With the kids, we teach them games so they don't even realize they're exercising and learning."

Those games were 12-year-old Kiara Wold and 11-year-old Raegan O'Toole's favorite part of the week.

"My favorite game was when we were in two teams and we lined up against each other and then we all fenced each other at the same time," Wold said.

O'Toole said her favorite games were one based off the classic arcade game Pac-Man and steal the bacon, where a fencing glove was placed in the middle and the first person to get it without getting hit with a saber won.

While neither girl had ever fenced before, Wold said she tried it out for a new experience.

"I thought it'd be fun, and it is," she said. "I'd seen it on TV, so I decided I'd try something new this summer."

Brothers Myles, 10, and Malachy Kinney, 11, also decided to try their hands at fencing after seeing the sport during Summer Olympics coverage.

"I've never fenced before, but I saw it in the Olympics and thought it looked like an interesting sport," Malachy Kinney said. "All of the equipment is really cool."

Kinney said he enjoyed learning the history of fencing, while also learning the different strategies and techniques that work best. His brother had different views.

"It's fun, but it hurts and it's sweaty," Myles Kinney said. "It's challenging, but I've learned how to not get hit by my brother with a saber."

Benford said Minnesota Sword Play will likely be back in the fall to teach another class in partnership with Willmar Community Education & Recreation.