Culver Academies' Fencer Claims National Title; A First for High School Program at Junior Olympics

Mar 01, 2011, 06:30 ET from The Culver Academies

CULVER, Ind., March 1, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Culver Academies junior Desirae Major became the first fencer from a high school program to win a national championship as she captured the 20-and-under women's saber division at the Junior Olympics Feb. 18-21 in Dallas.

Major, the daughter of Dianna Major of Olathe, Kan., became the first national champion fencer for the Academies, college prep boarding schools in northern Indiana comprised of Culver Military Academy and Culver Girls Academy. Until her victory, fencing clubs – not high school team fencers – had dominated the JO competition, which began in 1971.

Major also finished third in the U18 division, though she didn't have to enter that age group after her U20 victory. Her national championship led a 17-member contingent of Academies' fencers competing as a team at the national event for the first time and placing 13th.

With the winning touch, Major, 17, experienced "pure joy," though she didn't realize the significance of her victory at the time.

In that final bout, Major had the winning touch taken away on a challenge. But instead of mentally collapsing, she "refocused immediately and my mental strength pulled me through."

Academies' fencing coach Igor Stefanic agreed that Major's strength on the fencing strip is "her concentration and ability to focus during a match. Her head is the head of a champion; she has such a killing instinct. You cannot teach that."

That mental toughness is complemented by "a great work ethic either in the classroom or in the fencing gym," said Stefanic, who is also Major's Advanced Placement chemistry instructor.

A member of the Blue Key Academic Society and carrying a 3.9 grade-point average on a 4.0-scale, Major spent the evening after her championship match in the hotel taking an Advanced Placement Chemistry exam, receiving an A-minus.

To manage Culver's academic regimen and get to the JO is remarkable for a high school team, Stefanic said. "To have a national champion is extraordinary. Desirae fenced against kids from clubs who have fenced for years and fencing is their life. Culver is not just fencing."

Major's accomplishments on the fencing strip and in the classroom are even more impressive when you factor in that she has spent every weekend since the New Year crisscrossing the United States and even traveling to London for an international fencing competition, and another in Germany in December 2010.

Major's JO triumph was a fitting climax to frantic pace through January and February. She spent Jan. 12-13 in Dallas at a nationally-sanctioned event, placing second in the U17 category and in the top 32 in the U20. On Jan. 19-20, she was in Phoenix for an international competition, placing sixth in the U20 category. The next weekend, she jetted to London for another international competition, placing 16th in the U17 age bracket.

The weekend prior to the Junior Olympics the Culver program flexed its muscle on the regional level by winning the 12-team Great Lakes Conference team championship after 18-year drought. Major claimed the conference title in women's saber. The Academies' boys team (CMA) also had a conference champion in John Hayman of Cassopolis, Mich., in men's epee.

Fencing at Culver goes back to the 1930s and is one of the oldest varsity sports at the school, which was founded in 1894 as Culver Military Academy. Fencing was also the first varsity sport for Culver Girls Academy when it opened in 1971. The two coordinate schools operate together as Culver Academies.

From 1979 to 1985 Culver fencers were coached by Father Lawrence Calhoun, known to American fencing as the "Father of the Junior Olympics." The Culver program languished during the next couple of decades under a series of coaches before re-establishing its reputation under head coach Igor Stefanic, who took over the program in 2001.

About Culver Academies

Located on Lake Maxinkuckee in Culver, Ind., Culver Academies is a boarding school offering a college-preparatory curriculum for boys and girls in grades nine through 12.

Annually, Culver has an enrollment of 800 students representing more than 40 states and 25 countries. Approximately 21 percent of the students are international, coming from such countries as Canada, China, Ecuador, Germany, Korea, Lithuania, Mexico, and Taiwan.

Culver's mission is to educate its students for leadership and responsible citizenship by developing and nurturing the whole individual through integrated programs that emphasize the cultivation of character.

Founded in 1894, the boys' school, Culver Military Academy, is based upon a military-type system used to teach self-discipline, responsibility, and leadership. Culver Girls Academy, founded in 1971, and is based upon the prefect system, with girls practicing democratic, self-rule to achieve similar values.

The Academies and the six-week Culver Summer Schools & Camps, with an enrollment of 1,400 for boys and girls ages 9-17, operate on the same 1,800-acre campus in Marshall County in northcentral Indiana.

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SOURCE The Culver Academies