Davis is a sports-minded town. The stories of those who have put football, baseball and basketball on the community’s map appear frequently on these pages.
But there’s another athletic endeavor, less mentioned and almost invisible in these parts … fencing.
And together with grand master Simon Pitfield, it was been Richard Berry who has made the medieval undertaking an ever-growing element of the
Davis sports scene.
Since 1994, the two-time U.S. National Epee champion has dedicated himself to instruction from city recreational programs to private lessons in his driveway to co-founding the Davis Fencing Academy.
Berry, 88, shows no signs of slowing down. On Saturday he spent the morning with a class of socially distanced youngsters at the Second Street academy he runs with Pitfield.
The former Navy officer represented the U.S. in the 1955 and 1958 world championships after winning national titles while at Michigan State. He took the bronze medal in the 1956 World Military Fencing Games (Cairo, Egypt) and has brought 凯发体育官方sporthome medals and ribbons from every corner of the earth since.
For his accomplishments, Berry was named to the USA Fencing Hall of Fame. But COVID-19 canceled a June event in Philadelphia, at which Berry was to have spoken.
The ceremony is rescheduled for 2021, but Berry isn’t so sure he’s going to make that gig, so The Enterprise caught up with the accomplished foilman this weekend, giving him a chance to talk about fencing and his relationship to the sport.
Berry was asked why he’s still fired up about teaching the young kids a new sport?
Growing up in Highlands, Mich., Berry said the area “had some really top fencers — Olympic-style fencers.
“Even though I would compete against them, they were never available to offer suggestions or help,” He remembered. “I got no support from them, and I vowed then that when my competitive career came to an end … that I would continue to work with anybody who walked in the door.
“Even now, over (at the academy), when someone walks in I’m quick to go over and introduce myself and (help) wherever I can. I vowed I’d be (available) to any and all.”
Berry started the UC Davis fencing club and it was there that he met new student Pitfield, who had just arrived from England.
In Pitfield’s third year at UCD he joined Berry coaching local kids in Berry’s driveway, then began looking for a place to continue when the weather turned cold.
They approached the city parks and recreation officials with the idea of offering one class per week for up to 10 students. By the first day of class, Pitfield says two classes of 15 each were needed. The classes grew in size and number until Pitfield opened the Davis Fencing Academy in 1999.
Pitfield “is not the greatest fencer I have worked with, but he is the best coach I have ever taught,” Berry said with a chuckle.
One of the early students at the academy was Eileen Grench, who 15 years later represented Panama at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
The pair have gone on to introduce the pentathlon (swimming, running, laser pistol and equestrian), including a Davis event that drew 51 in 2013 — the largest such number of participants in the nation, according to Pitfield.
Since, Pitfield was approached by athletes interested in expanding
fencing and pentathlon opportunities in Northern California. He founded the Berry Athletic Foundation for Fencing and Pentathlon, named in honor of the man “whose support and dedication allowed fencing to grow and flourish in Davis,” Pitfield said. “The foundation is in the process of creating the Davis Pentathlon Center … already designated as the National Training Center for Modern Pentathlon/Multi-sport. The USA Fencing, says Pitfield, has also approached them about housing a coaches college at the new facility.
Berry has a trove full of unique stories about instruction, meeting people and competition. He likes to point out that his first coach — Dick Perry — was also the best man at his wedding. Subsequently, Pitfield’s first mentor — Dick Berry — was the best man in his wedding.
“We look around the room at his 9- and 10-year-olds and I tell him, ‘Simon, somewhere in here is a guy or girl that’s going to want you to keep the string going,’” laughed Berry.
Berry recalls the time he was asked to provide some fencing instruction for an up-and-coming actor in the early 1950s.
“I didn’t recognize him at the time,” recalled the instructor of the strapping, handsome actor. “It wasn’t until I saw the Ten Commandments that I realized I was helping Moses (Charlton Heston).”
— Reach sports editor Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected]ShareTweet