Recruiting Fencing with Head Coach Vincent Paragano

Head FencingCoach at Drew University

Conversation with Coach Paragano

On College Recruiting Mindset Podcast, Head Fencing Coach Vince Paragano of Bernardsville, N.J. is a certified United States Fencing Association/NCAA Professional Fencing Coach. Paragano has been the men’s and women’s head fencing coach at Drew University (NCAA Varsity) since taking over the program midway through the 2014-2015 college season. Over the past five full seasons, he has led the Rangers to an astounding 300-plus dual-meet victory, placing them among the top Division III programs in the nation.

If you had told me 30 years ago, I’d be coaching in college. I would say you’re absolutely correct, that was my future. But I thought it would have been baseball. Anybody who knows, like my brother’s joke with me all the time, because we all grew up as Yankee fans and average ballplayers, we were playing tons. And then I got introduced to fencing and everything went a different direction. But you find that the crossover between fencing and baseball is really good crossover. Especially cause I was a catcher and a catcher is constantly thinking, okay, he’s out thinking, he’s out thinking the offense, he’s setting up the defense, he’s managing the pitcher. He’s observing what each batter has done. And then he’s finding the antidote to the strength of the hitter. Well, that’s essentially what a saber fencer does. Right? And then you see just like in baseball, there are these lulls where the thought process is going on. And then there’s this quick action where you’re implementing the plan. That’s the that saber come through the line. The saying always had, and there are differences in the weapons. But in saber, you think from the minute they say halt, the minute they say fence. And in the other weapons, you think from the minute they say fence until the minute they say halt.

Well, all the thought process in saber, it’s a constant recalculation and the other thing we find is just like the kid, depending on their physical gifts or their attitude towards the sport, there are natural pitchers, right? There are natural outfields, there are natural cornermen, natural catchers, right? The personality dictates the position. Well in fencing, the personality dictates weapon. Or as the saying goes, you don’t choose the weapon the weapon chooses you. Okay. So when I got involved in the sport, I started in foil and foil. If you’ve ever seen a fencing match, it’s the one where they were just the vest. Okay. And it’s a point weapon. And the idea is to hit the vest, to settle off the light cleanly. Okay. I did it. I was fairly competent at it, but it was something I was holding when I picked up a saber for the first time. It feels like a part of my arm. It was the same feeling when you get, you get the right weight of the bat and the right balance. And you swing and you hit, you don’t even feel it, you can’t describe that to anybody.

And the focus is the same. When you enter a bat, a batter’s box, and you are focused. There’s no sound. You don’t hear the sound right here, your thoughts, but you don’t hear the crowd. Well, in fencing, it’s the same thing. If you hear the crowd, you’re not focused enough. You’re not going to do anything.

The Only Coach to Win the Prestigious Santelli Team Championship

 You’re the only coach to lead two High School teams to the prestigious Santelli Championship.

Part 2: New Coach at Drew University 

In my first recruiting class at that point, the team, I kind of whittled down our first recruiting class. I brought in 28 people, I recruited 28. I went to all my High Schools. And I went to all these guys and said, look, do you have any aspiring players that want to stay in-state and still want to fence? Now then actually after I clicked recruiting classes of 28, 24, 18, 36, we now have the largest team in Division 3 with the exception of one other and there’s a reason for that. But we’re the largest team that practices together, like every practice with all my players. So that’s the story. And I just, I kept going and then what normal recruiting looks like. So it’s really unusual, in fact, I’ve got someone coming in this fall. I actually met when they were competing in the Pan-American Games, in the youth division, I was competing in the veteran division, and one night I saw the parents in the restaurant and we just started talking.

Coach or Player

What’s the difference? While you there competing? Because you still active too and your coaching. So, when you are competing, are you coaching yourself as well? 

When you are a coach you are thinking about what your players should do when you are competing in a sport. And when you are the player you’re thinking of what the opponent’s about to do.

Making the Right Choice

Where did your son end up going to school? 

My son chose not to go to Princeton, and my wife and I are both Rutgers, which is a competing school and we were heartbroken and he chose instead to go to a small college in North Jersey that had Fencing. So his rationale was that he liked the head coach,  he said to me, (dad, the head coach is who I’m going to spend the most time with over my four years. He’s the professor I’m going to spend the most time and I like the guy). And I go, you know what, that’s fine. But what about going to an Ivy League School? He says, don’t worry, dad, I have to go to grad school anyway, I’ll go to an Ivy League grad school. So he went to this small college Fence for them made the NCAA Championship, the NCAA Regionals, excellent time at a Division 3 school studied hard and he got his Ph.D. from Yale. Now my baby girl the one that I coached she got into UPenn fencing for them and making the NCAA finals.

You’re dealing with this situation where it worked both advice. You know, my daughter went to Division 1 and it was highly competitive and my son went Division 3 and it was still competitive, but it was a different mindset on Division 3 and it matches their personality.

Division 1 and Division 3

You mentioned something important that could happen in soccer. You say people think soccer, it’s high level and lower level. I saw Junior Colleges playing against D1 Schools and they beat them as well. So that is the mentality that people have you know? … Yes. Division one of course is prestigious is extremely competitive when it comes to Football, Basketball, Baseball, Soccer you can see the differences between the Athletes the competition is more competitive, however on some Sports like in yours Fencing is not that case, so the mentality is I want to go to Yale, St. Jhon’s, Harvard hey will never think about Division 3 and I love Division 3 because if you Google Top 100 Universities in the US 74-75 are within that Division. 

So why is it that we don’t consider this type of division when it comes to parents and when it comes to athletes because it’s both, not just one?

What you’re looking at is summed in one word Football, one more time Football, Football, maybe two words, Basketball the money Sports. Those are the ones on television and those are the ones you hear the name over and over again, those little ones, the sport, and that promotes many colleges. That’s, those are the only two moneymaking sports that they have an occasional school that sells out its baseball games like Miami, UCLA, USC, or Stanford. Most part, the economics of it, uh, is through the television revenues, the television revenue on College Football is phenomenal. So now the kid grows up and he says, okay, those are in essences you know those schools. That doesn’t mean that in some of the sports that they have, that equal weight of presence.

Even funding as well, actually were better funded than that Division 1 school I was telling you about that the kid from France went to, I know because I actually took a look at that job a number of years ago and ongoing, or the amount of time they’re going to make me put in doesn’t pay. A lot of programs, especially in Fencing are Division 1 in name only. And the reason is the Division 1 rules say that they must feel a certain number of teams in Division 1 to hold Division 1 status. So for the sake of basketball, they have all these other sports that they underfund all Division 1. So there’s a whole bunch of schools that have no business calling themselves Division 1, really in certain sports.

I can’t speak to my opponents. My opponents are quality opponents, for the most part on any given day, we can give them a run for their money. Do you know what I mean?  And that’s, that’s the desire. Now I can’t argue with the Ivy Leagues and I can’t argue for the one or two elite programs that produce Olympic Athletes. And when we tell our recruits, for the most part, you’re going to be a professional when you get out of our program, you just not going to be a professional Fencer. There aren’t professional Fencers. What there are kids that have learned school skills that will turn them into professionals at something else.