Star Wars lightsaber battles and other sword-fighting cinema helped spur Sawyer Cornett’s early interest in fencing. But the 11-year-old possesses the manners and maturity of a man at least twice his age. A man who would choose a “gentleman sport” over more popular alternatives. In short, Edmond Dantes without the goatee and vendetta.
While his Garrard Middle School classmates make rugged tackles and scramble for basketballs, Cornett travels to Lexington several times a week to train with former Egyptian national fencing team coach Amgad Khazbak.
“Fencing is different,” Cornett said. “I like it. You can’t just let loose. You have to control yourself.”
That command and some Hollywood hype prompted him to ask his parents, Stephanie and Nathan Cornett, for fencing lessons.
“I liked in movies how people would fight with swords,” Sawyer Cornett said. “It really fascinated me.”
He persisted with his desire to try the sport until Stephanie Cornett signed him up for four trial lessons at Bluegrass Fencers’ Club in Lexington.
Nearly the minute he felt the thin sword in his hand and learned en garde stance, he knew the regal sport suited him.
“He got in the car after his first lesson and said, ‘I think I’m going to be fencing for a really long time,’” Stephanie Cornett remembered.
One could hardly doubt such an assured assertion, but Stephanie Cornett hesitated before placing her son in his first tournament, opting to attend a Louisville event as spectators before committing to participate.
“I was watching, and I was like, ‘Why am I not out there?” Sawyer Cornett said.
So his parents let him take a stab at competing in a December 2009 event. He didn’t earn a medal on the first try, but two years, numerous tournaments and a national ranking later, Sawyer Cornett continues to perfect his skills and shoot for his ultimate goal of competing in an overseas international tournament.
His fencing ambitions — though firmly grounded in reality rather than dreams of fortune and professional athleticism like many kids his age — mimic his patient, clever fighting style.
“Most of the time, I like counterattacking,” he said. “You wait for the person to attack first, then you do a move.”
But Stephanie Cornett noted he won’t shy away from a chance to back his challenger all the way to end of the strip and force him out of bounds, resulting in a point for Sawyer Cornett.
“He’s pretty aggressive,” she said.
Though Sawyer Cornett competes with a foil —the lightest of fencing’s three weapons — his less experienced opponents often leave their mark when jabbing at his legs and arms instead of his torso area where they could earn points for a “touch.”
While inspecting her son after this month’s tournament, Stephanie Cornett said she considered buying him a shirt that proclaimed “Don’t worry about my bruises; I’m a fencer” before he headed back to school.
But his classmates are more awed than concerned about his extracurricular activity.