Cetrulo Family Fencing Center: New Room Brings New Enthusiasm to Fencing Team

The New Fencing Room, generously donated by Mr. Cetrulo, has brought a new energy to the team.

Yesterday, students, alums, and friends gathered at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School for an unveiling of the newly upgraded Cetrulo Family Fencing Center. Reminiscence, laughter, advice and new expectations for the fencing team filled the night.

The new center has been made possible by a donation from Mr. Larry Cetrulo, whose family has had a profound involvement with fencing and the city of Newark since the early 1900s, beginning with his grandfather. Mr. Larry Cetrulo’s involvement with SBP began when a good friend of his told him to give SBP Headmaster Fr. Edwin Leahy, O.S.B, a call. Though Mr. Cetrulo was reluctant at first, because he had been a Newark Academy student and not an SBP student, he eventually called. “And here we are today,” he said. “I’m happy to have been in the position to help.”

The center is state of the art. Only one other room of its type exists, and it’s at Columbia University. The company designing many elements of the room, Radical Fencing, is committed to give to fencers what they say all fencers deserve: the best equipment possible. Philippe Bennett, who founded the company and is a longtime national and international fencer, helped install the room over the last couple of weeks and attended the ceremony.

Several other special guests showed for the event. Among them were some of the first fencers at SBP, as well as the first coach, Mr. Derrick Hoff H’96. The new room left them awed and inspired to give words of advice to current fencers. “If you don’t put in the work, this all goes down the drain,” Mr. Hoff said.

Fencers were inspired by the words of the guests, and they feel an even greater obligation now to take advantage of the room and to reclaim their former success. Fencing Captain Francisco Perez ‘19 acknowledged the challenge that has been posed. “I’m willing to take it,” he said.

When the fencing team was first established (through the idea of a student who wanted to have fencing at school) in 1985, there was no indication that the team would ever find success. There was only a foil team. Blades were wooden sticks. Strips were rubber mats bound by removable tape. And the center was based in the cafeteria (which had to be set up daily.) But Mr. Hoff, who was the cousin of the student who wanted to have fencing at SBP, led the team in the coming year to place third in the district and ninth in the state. Success continued with the following four years, with the team winning three out of four state champion fencing titles.

Even when Mr. Hoff left, the team continued to perform well. It went on to dominate at State Preps for about 16 years in a row, from 1992 to 2008. After that point, the team, though still placing high at every event, rarely won first place. It did not, for example, win first place after 2011 until 2017. The same thing applies to the teams’ performance at the Cetrulo Fencing Tournament, which is for both private and public schools in New Jersey. The team has not won first place at Cetrulo’s since 2000, but has consistently placed in the top 10.

That win in 2017 and the team’s performance in the last three seasons, though, have been a sign of good things to come. The team is looking this year to place in the top five. “We are going to do the best we can to return this program to being as competitive as possible on a yearly basis,” said Fencing Coach Rich Molina ‘06. The new room has ignited a new enthusiasm to achieve that goal.

“Give up what you want for what the team needs,” said Captain Marc Urquilla ‘19. That phrase, which Fr. Ed coined, says exactly what the captains think it will take to perform well this year: respect, the ability to listen, and accountability for each other.

Overall, according to the captains, a lot of the fencing team’s success has been due to one more very important aspect: the fencing team is like a family.
“Even though we’re all from different backgrounds and different locations, we’re still a family because we suffer together, win together, lose together, and get better together,” said Captain Urquilla.

That aspect, each of the captains said, has helped them to improve in and out of the fencing room, and will help them also to continue performing to the best of their abilities for their team.

“Simply having ‘St. Benedict’s Fencing’ on your chest is something to behold…something to be appreciated…There’s nothing like it, and that’s why we will use the room to our advantage” said Captain Perez.