Whitman Duo Win Prestigious Fencing Awards

Nick Wurtz and Alex O'Toole
Nick Wurtz and Alex O'Toole

The Fencer's Fencer Award goes to 1 boy and 1 girl from Suffolk County. The recipient of the Fencer's Fencer award is someone whom others look up to and aspire to emulate. This person should be someone who is not simply a good fencer, but a good person. Someone who knows how to win, as well as how to lose. This person should be someone who is genuine and who is respected both on and off the strip by their teammates as well as their peers.

Alex O'Toole very deservingly received the Fencer's Fencer award at the recent Suffolk County Fencing Championships. Alex has fenced since she was in seventh grade and over the years has formed relationships not only within this team but others as well. She has long been respected as a quality fencer and as a leader. She has never been rude or disrespectful to others on the strip. She will stand ready to salute until she is able to properly salute her opponent and be saluted in return. This last thing I mentioned may seem trivial to some, but she is highly respected within the fencing community for showing this respect to others and for requiring it from others in return. This simple action sends a clear message and lesson to all fencers in Suffolk County about how we should respect and acknowledge one another, win or lose.

This season was particularly tough for Alex. She has had difficulty breathing due to a vocal cord disorder. She was not able to do the things she has always been capable of or to achieve what she wanted for herself during her last season with the team. Everyone saw how Alex struggled, but she gained herself further admiration among her peers, coaches, and directors for how she persevered. She never gave up! She never quit on herself or her team. She was an inspiration in this regard to our team and to others. She never took a break longer than what she needed, she always fought hard, and she dug deep at moments when she or the team needed it most.

The Jimmy Nelson Hero Award - Jimmy Nelson was a Centereach fencer who eventually went on to become a Port Authority police officer. Jimmy was killed on September 11, 2001 when, after the first tower fell, he rushed into the second one to help get others out. Long before this, Jimmy was deeply admired and respected by his family, friends, and former teammates. As a fencer Jimmy was the 4th man, the alternate. Every time it looked like he would become one of the 3 starters, someone else came along who was just a little better. But Jimmy never minded. Of course he wanted to fence and be a starter, but he focused on what was best for the team and above all was just happy to be part of the team and the dynamic group of people he called not just his teammates, but his friends.

This year, we nominated, unbeknownst to him or his teammates, Nicholas Wurtz.

The Whitman team would like to nominate one of our seniors, Nicholas Wurtz. He has been a member of the team for 5 years and the 5th man for 4 of them. He is getting varsity bouts this year only because our entire varsity sabre squad graduated last year. Every year that it looked like he was going to be the 4th man, there was someone who joined who was better than him, and he was shifted to the 5th spot. At times he has even become the 6th man. Nick has always been someone who I know can be relied upon to do the right thing, to stand up for what is right, and even his teammates over the years have recognized that. Even though Nick may have been the 5th man in terms of the strip, he has always been the 1st man on the team. Over the years, I have heard the varsity starters make comments like, "Well if Nick is doing that..." or "If Nick said..." Then that is what they follow and do because for them he was the hero of the team. I have heard them make comments about how they were fencing bouts and trying to win for Nick. I don't think he is at all aware of how his teammates look at him or how they have looked up to him over the years, and even if he does or did, he doesn't let it goes to his head, he just continues trying to be the best person he can and contribute as much to his team as he can.

Nick has never complained, never asked when he will get to fence, he is just happy to be part of the team. He is one of the hardest-working kids I have ever met, and he works not just for himself, but for his team. He is the quiet example that others follow. He works hard without ever expecting anything in return for the time and effort he puts in. He comes early, stays late, and goes out of his way to help his teammates and coaches because that is the type of high-quality person Nick is. Nick is a soft-spoken individual who is thoughtful, caring, and considerate of everyone around him, and since the time he joined the team, he has always had the full respect of his teammates and coaches. I have never heard Nick say a harsh word against anyone. I have watched him comfort his teammates or build them back up, but he always encourages them and helps them push through. When I have told him in the past that we would try to get him bouts, he always responds that it's ok, that if his chance comes, then it comes. When offered bouts he has even tried to put others ahead of himself, not because he didn't want the bouts, but because he felt they somehow deserved it more or because he wanted them to have an opportunity. It is this selflessness of Nick's that has helped our team to come together and strive for something better as a group rather than as individuals. He has recognized that there are people who were better fencers than he in the past, and he has always supported them and stated that they were the ones who should fence, that it was what was best for the team, even when he had earned bouts through his dedication and hard work.

His departure at the end of the season will be a massive loss for them team, and I don't know that there is anyone who can ever or will ever fill his shoes in the same way in terms of what he has contributed to the team off the strip that has led to others’ success on it.

Nick Wurtz is a person whom I deeply respect and admire for his unwavering commitment and dedication to the team and his genuine caring for all its members.

Just as an aside, Nick's parents are likewise just as selfless and dedicated. They have come to all of our home meets and even some of the away meets, even when Nick wasn't going to have any bouts on the varsity strip. They were there to support the team and their son as the 5th man. They are always involved and willing to lend a helping hand, the first to volunteer and do what they can for the team. They have never complained either about Nick’s not getting to fence varsity bouts; they have just been happy for him to be part of the team. We are grateful to Nick's parents for what they have contributed in terms of character to the community.