The world of fencing saw a drastic decline with the pandemic. All sports saw a huge decline, with the world being pushed into unknown territory and an unclear path to recovery.
With the cancellation of almost an entire fencing season and the forced shutdown of most fencing clubs, fencing went online and dormant for the better part of a year. There were times that it looked truly dire, and even the most optimistic of us wondered what things would look like when the world reopened.
We are now able to see some hint of what will happen with reopening, how and when fencing might recover. Below, you’ll find a series of charts that break down the membership numbers from USA Fencing, followed by an analysis of what those numbers mean. Keep in mind, this is just the beginning. Right now, we have numbers from January 2021, at the height of lockdown, and June 2021, when reopening started to take hold. The numbers are encouraging.
Keep reading to see what’s been happening!
Regional & Divisional fencing changes
We’ll start with the regional fencing numbers. You can see that the percentage of growth in fencing over all six regions is just over forty percent in the last five months!
|Region||January||June||Growth #||Growth %|
Percentage-wise, Region 2 saw the highest growth, with 58% in the last few months. This is fueled by the explosive growth in Illinois, which almost doubled its fencing population. In absolute numbers, Region 3 with its New England, New Jersey, and New York centered population saw the highest growth. Next is Region 4, which is mostly dominated by California’s increase. When we step back and look at the bigger picture, we notice that fencing is returning everywhere! Most of the growth is proportional. That is fantastic! It means that there is no one place that fencing is seeing a boost – we’re boosting everywhere.
When we separate out the regions further into divisions, we can better understand the specifics of what’s happening in the chart above. Below, you’ll scroll through a sizable table that includes each of the divisions from across the United States. Keep going to see some analysis of what those numbers mean!
|Division||January||June||Growth #||Growth %|
|Gold Coast Florida||252||343||91||36.11%|
|Western New York||123||149||26||21.14%|
Interestingly, the growth across divisions is not as uniform as it seemed to be when we looked at the numbers regionally.
Region 2 divisions grew the most, with Illinois, Ohio, and St. Louis almost doubling in size.It seems that in Region 2, fencers returned to fencing in much larger numbers than elsewhere. This could have to do with many reasons – reopening procedures in these states, the number of surviving clubs, or something else. The country’s largest division, New Jersey, grew proportionally to the rest of the country. It’s also interesting to note that the top 10 divisions were responsible for half the growth in numbers and are growing faster than the rest of the country. Obviously, people in big metropolitan areas are returning to the sport much faster than they are in more rural areas.
Check out the chart below to see how the top ten divisions break down in terms of fencing growth, then read the analysis of this chart below.
|Total in June||% of USFA membership|
|Top 10 divisions||10701||46.85%|
|Top 10 divisions in June|
This chart shows beautifully how well fencing is recovering from the pandemic. Note here that there was almost a fifty percent increase in fencing membership in the top ten divisions. These areas have long been concentrations of fencing in the United States, and so we would expect them to come back the quickest. The permanent closure of fencing clubs in the United States seems to have leaned towards areas that already had smaller numbers of fencers, and it would be the larger clubs that had a better shot at surviving.
The hope now is that this kind of growth will spread past these top ten Divisions. It will take longer in other areas, but we can hope that it will continue to happen.
Age and Level Fencing Numbers Show Fencing Recovery
Geography is not the only way to make sense of fencing in the United States. Below, we take a look at the ages and levels of fencers in the U.S. and how those have changed over the last six months.
Honestly, some of these numbers were quite surprising!
|Type||January||June||Growth #||Growth %|
Growth in competitive fencers is slightly less than the total growth of fencers (33% vs 41%). What we see here to be driving the uptick in fencing is new fencers. Based on our club, and on talks with other coaches from other clubs, this is consistent with their personal experience. A lot of new kids discovered fencing during the pandemic, and now that things are reopening, they’re excited to try it out.
What’s most amazing about this for us is the opportunity for future growth of our sport based on these early numbers. People are excited about fencing! People who haven’t done fencing are excited to try it!
Now, let’s have a look at the school-age breakdown of fencing growth in the last six months. We divided the whole school-age population into 3 major groups, High School (HS) – 2003-2006 birth years, Middle School (MS) – 2007-2011 birth years, Elementary School (ES) – 2010-2014 birth years. The last group, Before School, are those kids that are younger, and it represents a tiny fraction of a few kids in some clubs, and not a major trend (yet).
|Type||January||June||Growth #||Growth %|
As expected, the school-age population has seen twice faster growth than the rest of the fencing population with 66% growth compared to 33%. This is wonderful news for our sport, as it means both that kids who were in the sport are coming back AND that new fencers are joining. Also, the elementary school age, the real future of the USA Fencing, is growing the fastest with 74% growth since January. That means a lot of kids are joining. Great numbers for fencing!
Next, we’ll sift through the composition of school-aged fencers in the United States. Essentially, this pulls together the previous two charts to give us a better understanding of what’s happening here.
|January||June||Growth #||Growth %|
Here we see reinforced the reality of new elementary school kids driving the growth in fencing. With regional and local competition opening up, we also see that a lot of new kids are starting to compete. About 2,200 school-age kids either converted their non-competitive membership to competitive or signed up directly to competitive memberships since January. That’s about 10% of the total USA Fencing population! This is a really great sign that as competitive fencing returns, kids are ready to go and get into that world.
More than half of these fencers are in elementary and middle school, which means a bright future for fencing. These kids have a lot of time to train before they graduate and move on to college. While we can’t predict what will happen, we can assume that at least some of these young people will go on to be our future elite fencers.
Finally, let’s look at the percentage of kids in fencing relative to each other. This comparative table is particularly helpful because it lets us see how these groups relate to each other.
School-aged fencers are of course the largest group in USA fencing, and we’re lucky for that because they represent our future. Here, we see that school-aged kids joined fencing since January in larger numbers than any other age group. In fact, in the last six months they have driven the overall numbers for all of USA Fencing! What is interesting, however, is that the elementary school growth was proportionally larger than the high school. The interplay here is essentially between high school and elementary school fencers, with the middle school percentage staying steady over time.
Thinking forward in fencing
These numbers are HUGELY encouraging for fencing. It’s fantastic to see how well things are moving, though there’s a long way to go yet.
We do want to keep in mind that a lot of the fencing clubs in the United States closed their doors during the pandemic. That number will not come back so quickly and for those who keep their doors open their membership will not return to the pre-pandemic numbers overnight, but with time and patience, we have every reason to believe that fencing will recover. We can come back not only as good as we were before, we can come back to something even better.
With the lifting restrictions across the United States and the reopening of competitions, we are seeing large numbers of entries into fencing tournaments. People are jumping back into the sport! We are also seeing a healthy growth of fencing for school-aged kids, which is exactly what we want to see for the bright future of fencing.
The real hope here is that, combined with the Olympic Games and the great performances among American fencers that we know will happen during that most visible event, we’ll see this upward trend continue to expand and fencing poised for a complete recovery. The nature of fencing itself was conducive to practice during the pandemic, giving our sport a bit of a buffer against losing more membership. We were one of the few sports that continued even during lockdown via Zoom.
This is likely only the start of the rebirth of fencing in America and the rekindling of the love for the sport. Not that the love was ever really gone. We definitely believe that there is a bright future ahead for fencing!