Dig Baton Rouge

No Touchdowns, No Problem: Baton Rouge sports thrive in summer months

There are no touchdowns at Tiger Stadium and no dunks in the PMAC on LSU’s campus. High school stadiums are left empty, as students enjoy their summer break.
This is the reality of Baton Rouge’s most popular sports in the summer.
Whether it’s high school, collegiate or professional athletics, sports take over Baton Rouge in the fall. But when the school year ends and the summer months arrive, the sports scene in Louisiana’s capital city calms.
Despite the heat and humid period, two sports — pickleball and fencing—thrive.
“It’s like Ping-Pong on steroids,” said pickleball-participant Mike Smith. “It’s similar to tennis. However, unlike tennis you have to serve underhand. It keeps the power serve from dominating the game. We get lots of volleys and lots of action.”
The BREC-sponsored sport is played with a sport-specific paddle and a Whiffle Ball. It is advertised as a game for all ages on BREC’s website.
Pickleball is considered a low-impact sport and participants’ ages range from teens to members in their 80s. The wide array of ages is one aspect of the game Smith said he finds appealing.
“The people playing typically have an athletic background,” Smith said. “It’s good for fitness. It’s good for socializing, and I just like competitive sports.”
The sport is played at five BREC parks throughout the city during varying times during the week. There’s a cost to play, but at $5 per month or $50 annually, it likely won’t break the bank.
“The rules are simple and the game is easy for beginners to learn, but can develop into a quick, fast-paced competitive game for experienced players,” according to the pickleball page on BREC.org.
While pickleball may not be widely popular, one of Baton Rouge’s other hidden gems is more than 100 years old and an Olympic sport.
After becoming president of the Baton Rouge Fencing Club in 2010, Ryan O’Connor said he saw a need for a space to teach those interested in learning fencing. He founded the Red Stick School of Fencing in 2012, and serves as the owner and head coach of the school.
“We are a school that teaches the modern, Olympic art of fencing,” O’Connor said. “It is a martial art much like karate, Jiu-Jitsu or Taekwondo or anything like that. It is just what is considered a European martial art.”
In 1896, 16 years after fencing’s first recorded competition, the first set of official fencing regulations were written and that same year fencing was a sport in the inaugural Summer Olympics held in Athens, Greece. The event has been a staple of the Olympics and is one of four competitions to have been in every Game.
Fencing is a sport for everyone, according to the Arizona State University alumnus.
“I’m asthmatic. I’m five-foot-seven, a little bit overweight and never could do sports in school, but I can do fencing, because it’s just as mental as it is physical,” O’Connor said. “I have kids come in [to the school] and they’ve tried every other sport, and they haven’t found their niche, but they come in here, and it doesn’t matter.”
Much like pickleball, participants at the school vary. O’Connor holds “Mini-Muskesteers” classes for children ages 4 to 7 years old, and there are fencers in their 60s.
The school has grown steadily from 25 students in its first year to 70. O’Connor attributed to the quick growth to the opening being in an Olympic year, which he said sparked interest in the sport.
The fencing veteran expects participation to rise with the upcoming 2016 Games and said he has given more introduction lessons, a free one-hour class to teach the basics, in the last month than the six months prior.
“Most of our growth is word of mouth,” he said. “We do demonstrations for schools. If anyone wants a demonstrations, we are happy to come out and do it.”
Fencing equipment is not cheap as a set can cost hundreds of dollars, but O’Connor does his best to combat prices for his students.
He said participants are asked to purchase some of the required safety gear, but the school provides a majority at the beginning to help offset costs for those on the fence.
“I try to make things as accessible as possible,” O’Connor said. “That’s my goal here: To make fencing accessible. I want to keep my prices down for my classes and lessons. I’ll help students get used gear as they become more interested. I do everything I can to keep our prices down and to keep the cost minimal to my students.”

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