Feature Article - November 2010
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Finding Space

Making Room for Fitness Programming

By Wynn St. Clair

Alternative Time, Alternative Space, Alternative Sport

No program shows the parks department's commitment to engaging programming and creative space solutions like its fencing classes. Gochenour came up with the idea while watching the Olympics and contemplating new programs. She wanted something unique, something that neighboring towns didn't offer, so it would be easier to attract patrons from around the region. She also wanted to find an equally invested instructor, someone who would inspire participants and care as much about the program as she did.

She found Vicki Hanes, who runs the Isle of Wight Fencing Club in Virginia and is a member of the U.S. Fencing Coaches Association. Hanes initially agreed to hold a demonstration class, but the strong turnout and enthusiastic response prompted the parks and rec department to offer the sport as a regular class. Poquoson now has its own fencing club with instruction offered during the spring, summer and fall sessions at the beginner and intermediate levels. Hanes also provides one-on-one instruction to advanced participants.

"This is a program that kids 10 and up and adults can learn the basics of," Gochenour said. "We've even had families do the class. It's all-inclusive, multi-age. Everyone has the same learning curve. Everyone has to learn the same footwork, how to hold the foil right and the basic steps."

Classes take place on Sunday evening in the Poquoson Primary School gymnasium, which also hosts karate and kickboxing classes during the week. Gochenour said she intentionally chose an unconventional time slot—and location—for the fencing program because the sport is somewhat unconventional itself.

"Of course, fencing is not like baseball," she said. "We chose Sunday because it's a day that's not competing with a lot of other activities. It's alternative time, alternative space, so we're not competing with other sports."

Though it may not be a mainstream sport, Gochenour believes fencing can succeed in similar-sized communities or parks departments grappling with space crunches because it's not a demanding program. Any room that can fit 10 to 15 people can host a fencing class or practice session, she said.

"You have to be a good salesperson if you want them to take your class," she said. "Then, you have to make sure to check in with your instructor to really know and see what they're doing so you can get others excited about it."

For Coach Hanes, who operates her own fencing school about 20 miles away, the partnership between Poquoson schools and the local parks and recreation department has been a creative way to introduce her beloved sport to an entire community. It's such an invaluable opportunity, she's willing to patiently grow the program and help with the outreach efforts.

"It has been a great partnership," Hanes said. "It benefits us because it creates awareness for our sport."

It can work for you, too. Look around your community, and try to find out what kinds of sports or fitness activities aren't available anywhere else. For example, you can start a rowing club, using indoor rowing machines alongside your other fitness equipment both for group classes and individual training. Or what about synchronized swimming? Dodgeball? Disc golf? If you can pique people's interest with an introduction to something new, you might be able to introduce your community to a whole new way to keep fit.