I sit at the table, palms sweaty, fingers tingling, tentatively hovering over the colored cards placed in front of me. My directions seem simple, choose the most important or impactful things in my life based on categories, special things, places, memories, goals, and people. Each round we had to take more cards away. We had to remove the things that were least necessary in our life and keep the what we needed the most. This seemingly innocent exercise for my high school leadership class turned from an easy task to one that was putting me on the verge of mental breakdown. On the last round my cards revealed the things most important to me: happiness, mom, dad, and finally Mr. Barnett, my fencing coach. Did I really need happiness I thought to myself? Mr. Barnett was going nowhere for sure so this was an impossible choice for me. Although it was hypothetical it made me think deeper about what had made me who I am.
Fencing is a sport of respect. I had no idea what to expect when I entered the sport freshman year. I walked into the first practice with butterflies fluttering in my stomach, I could not get sick before we actually started running. Unlike soccer or basketball, there aren’t many opportunities to fence before high school and honestly, I had no idea what fencing was until Mr. Barnett attempted to recruit me at one of my soccer games. Besides teaching me how to parry and riposte, Mr. Barnett has taught me a lesson in respect. On arrival of practices or matches, we are expected to stop what we are doing and shake Mr. Barnett’s hand showing our appreciation of him, and when leaving no matter how late practice ends, we shake his hand on our way out. This goes for random sightings of Mr. Barnett in town, the supermarket or the soccer field, no matter the setting, I shake Mr. Barnett’s hand. It is an unsaid rule, everyone follows it.
Responsibility. Mr. Barnett instills in his athletes that we are young adults, and we must act like it. Not only do we have to be responsible for our fencing equipment that is given to us, we must be responsible for ourselves. “You are responsible for yourselves, you all are old enough now. It is not your parents fault that you missed the bus to the match, or that you forgot your bag at home. These things are your responsibilities and you must deal with them.” This is one of the first things that Mr. Barnett tells the new fencers. He tells his athletes that they must be accountable for themselves and while on his team we must be at the helm of our own life. I always check my bag two to three times to make sure I have everything, I get there a half hour early just to make sure that I am there, showing my devotion to the team. This year as Board of Education representative I was expected to be in two places at once. Both my fencing practice and my meetings overlapped, I did not know what to do, I even considered giving up my position but I thought about it, I reflected on the responsibility that Mr. Barnett had ingrained in me, I had made a commitment to the Board of Ed and I had to follow through with it. So what I did was participate in fencing practice and then speed over to my meeting at the elementary school in my practice clothes, ready to contribute.
Yes, Mr. Barnett taught me how to fence but there is more to him than being an athletic coach he is a coach in life. I could never remove him from my life, even in a silly exercise because his advice and caring attitude has been a vital piece in my life and who I have become. Even after fencing I know that his encouragement will stay with me for good.