When most kids were starting basketball or soccer leagues, Priory senior Alexandre Amice was interested in fencing. After seeing a demonstration at school in second grade, Alexandre wanted to try his hand at the sport. It was a good choice. He’s been consistently ranked in the top 20 in his age group in the United States since he started actively competing at age 9 and was just named the junior Midwest Regional Champion for the 2015-2016 season.

“After I told my mom I wanted to try it out, she started looking for coaches,” he says. They found Hossam Hassan, the former National Egyptian coach who qualified his country for the Olympics in 2004. “His club, The Fencers Academy, was the closest to our house and it turns out he was the only competitive coach in town,” Alexandre says. “I still train with him five days a week.”

The 18-year-old maintains a stringent schedule, adding in weight lifting two to three times a week. “I train a minimum of around two hours during the week, and on Saturdays, it’s around four hours,” he says. Each day is a set routine, some focused on fencing and others including footwork and reflex drills, defense/offense strategies and tournament practice. This kind of dedication gets him where he wants to be: last year, he finished 14th in the nation.

There are three types of weapons in fencing: foil, épée and sabre; Alexandre competes in foil. “I have to hit my target in the torso with the tip of my blade,” he explains. “It’s not illegal to hit off target, but it will stop the match. There are rules governing who has the right of way, who is protected.” In his efforts to explain tournament play and the skills involved, Alexandre notes that the concept is simple, but the application is complicated. Tournaments involve five-touch battles (the first person to reach five wins) until the elimination rounds, which are 15-touch battles.

Alexandre competed for the first time when he was 8, but says he became really competitive by age 9, when he ranked among the top 10 in his age group. “I was bigger than most kids, which made me pretty good,” he says. “As you get older, it becomes more competitive. In the 15 and under category, people fight to get in the top three because that’s how you compete in the World Championship tournament.”

Both national and international tournaments affect U.S. rankings. “I fence in one national tournament a month between October and February, which are all over the country,” Alexandre says. Certain international tournaments are designated to affect national standings, and he has traveled to France and Italy for two of them. Alexandre competes in the 20 and under category and the Seniors division, which is reserved for players of any age who meet a minimum rating. “You have to be in at least the C category, and I compete in A, the highest category,” he says. “The top three players in the Seniors division make the Olympic team, so technically I’ve fenced in the Olympic trials.”

With all of his rankings and success, there is a simple reason Alexandre stuck with the sport: it’s fun, he says. “I love the speed. You have to be focused and very disciplined. If you’re not, someone who isn’t as good can make you look ridiculous.”

Alexandre makes sure to note that his success would not have been possible without the support of his coach and the Priory community. He will continue his battles at the University of Pennsylvania, where he will join the fencing team this fall.

stadium standout: zach hughes
There is a special bond among high school football players, a brotherhood. Under the bright stadium lights on Friday night with classmates cheering in the bleachers, the team shares the same passion for beating an opponent and proving their strength as a unit. It is this experience that makes Westminster Christian Academy senior Zach Hughes love the game.

Sports-Zach-Hughes“Sports have always been a staple in my life,” he says. “There’s a picture of me when I was around 1 with a soccer ball. But football is my main sport. I started playing when I was 9.” Zach’s dad played in high school and coached a junior team in Chesterfield. His parents didn’t want him starting too early, but once he did, there was no looking back. As one of two high school athletes in the country who won the Wendy’s High School Heisman award this year, Zach is proof that you can succeed with determination and hard work. “I wasn’t always the fastest or best player early on,” he says. “Sometimes I struggled to see the field, but I hit a growth spurt and started playing at my grade level and got better.”

He’s played just about every position on the field, from offensive line to quarterback to defensive back and everything in between, he says. In high school, he started playing receiver and safety, along with returning kicks and punts. This year was exceptionally good for Zach and the Westminster team. “We were 13-1, the most wins ever in the school program, and we made it to the state semifinals,” he says. “One of the most memorable parts of the season was beating our rival, John Burroughs. We had lost to them for years, so it was great for the seniors. Football is a very emotional game. Win or lose, it feels like it matters because you are so committed to all the work you put in.”

That commitment earned Zach the Heisman honor this year. One male and female senior athlete were chosen out of 102 state winners and 10 finalists to receive the award. “My guidance counselor encouraged me to fill out the application, which was based on academics, involvement and athletic achievements, among other things,” he explains. “The school surprised me at chapel one morning to let me know I was a finalist.” Zach flew to New York for the first time and met the other nine finalists. It was a mix of nervousness and excitement before the winners were announced at the ceremony, broadcast on ESPN2. “Throughout the entire process, I focused on the importance of relationships and being thankful for the opportunities and talents God has given me,” he says.

It’s this kind of attitude that got Zach the role of captain of both his football and track teams this year. “That was a big deal,” he says. “You have to step up as a vocal leader. All of a sudden, people were looking at me to see what I would do and how I would respond to certain situations. It really challenged me to work harder.” Zach has run track since middle school, taking his freshman year off to play golf because of an ankle injury. He started basketball in seventh grade and notes that he’s “always practicing for something.” He’s currently looking to find the best university to continue his passion for football. “I understand it’s all a gift, and I am thankful for that and loving every minute!