By Jerry Del Priore
Gladys Berardi’s longstanding fencing career occurred by happenstance.
After not making the basketball team for her first two years at Montclair State University, Berardi noticed fencing in a side gym and decided to take it as a physical education credit class to learn more about it.
A natural left-hander, she started as a righty fencer because there was only right-handed equipment available. But then she said she vastly improved once she was able to fence with her left hand, of course.
That kicked off a 40-year and ongoing love affair with fencing.
Berardi is currently the girl’s head coach at West Morris Central High School in Chester, New Jersey, a gig she has held for the past five seasons. Additionally, she is the founder of the Hundred Win club for the fencing teams at the school for three years.
Berardi said she started the club to give Wolfpack high school fencers a milestone to work for and hopefully reach.
“Basketball has 1000 points as its (high School) accolade,” she said. “Fencers need something to motivate them, so we have 100 wins for our fencers.”
She said it’s not that easy to achieve, since fencers may have to wait their turn to compete because of better teammates ahead of them on the depth chart. Sometimes, that means seeing limited action early on in their high school fencing careers. Plus, there are only so many bouts to participate in, in a season that’s three months long,
So when it is accomplished, it is a monumental achievement.
To give West Morris Central fencing a possible feeder system of would-be fencers, Berardi — along with Wolfpack Boy’s Coach, Henry Crouse, and student-fencing volunteers — holds a seven-eight week long fencing program for middle school students, which meets once a week for an hour and a half session.
“We teach (them) an introductory class for an hour and a half per week,” she said. “We give them a peek into a sport other than basketball and soccer, and we hope they stick with it.”
Berardi said that she hopes that it helps to continue to grow the sport in New Jersey, where it has the highest amount of high school fencing programs in the country at 62.
Though she loves guiding high school fencers, Berardi didn’t start coaching at the high school level.
After college, marriage and having her daughter, Sabina, Berardi began coaching first on the college ranks at Jersey City State, and then at Caldwell College. A few years later she joined the high school coaching circuit at Wayne Hills High School, in Passaic County, New Jersey.
Refusing to sit on the sidelines, Berardi still fences competitively, giving her a sense of freedom and free will. And she shows zero signs of slowing down.
“I consider fencing a lifetime sport,” Beradi gleefully said. “I still fence several times a year in what is called the Veterans division, fencers 40 and up. I am currently the 2018 Pan American Veterans 60 and over Foil, Epee and Sabre Champion.”
Touché, fencing world.