Retiring from teaching this year won’t foil fencing medal winner Paul Epply-Schmidt ’83 in his determination to wield a blade in international competitions.
Epply-Schmidt has been teaching English and history at Princeton Day School for 33 years and winning fencing matches for even longer. He won a gold medal in the men’s Vet-60 foil competition at the U.S. Fencing’s Veteran National Championships, held in August in Atlanta. (“Veteran,” in this case, refers to age classification.)
Growing up in Texas, where most boys picked up footballs, Epply-Schmidt chose a different type of sporting contest.
“I was the kid who played with sticks and trash can lids,” he says. “My mother, Diane, was a Romantic — that’s with a capital R. She was an Oklahoma girl who inculcated in me a deep love of European history, and read me bedtime storiesfilled with history, adventures, and swordfights.”
As a teenager he enrolled at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas, which had the only French fencing master in the state. “I gained a solid classical fencing training under M. Daniel Nevot, an ex-military member of the Free French forces in Africa and a real idol of mine.”
After graduation, attending Princeton was an easy choice. “I loved that there was a room totally dedicated to fencing,” he remembers. “That was great, after previously holding classes on the sidewalk.”
After two years at Princeton, he took a year off to train with fencing master Michel Sébastiani. He considered delaying school and trying out for the 1984 Summer Olympics, “but my dad tempered my youthful ambition by saying he wouldn’t pay for college if I put it off anymore. I was glad in the end he did that because I returned to a successful junior and senior year.”
During his senior year, Princeton fencing coach Stan Sieja died suddenly. Epply-Schmidt said after he lobbied the University, Sébastiani was hired on as the new coach and remained there until 2006.
While at Princeton, Epply-Schmidt won the freshman fencing award and earned first-team All-Ivy honors in 1980, 1982, and 1983, plus NCAA second-team recognition in 1982 and first-team in 1983. He captained the fencing team as a senior and made it to the final duel for the NCAA men’s foil national title, achieving national runner-up.
In addition, Epply-Schmidt has choregraphed the swordfight scenes in Don Giovanni twice — once in college and once for the New Jersey Opera Festival.
But the best prize he won at Princeton was the heart of Joanne Epply ’82, after they met in a music class. Now married for 35 years, they have two grown children.
In 2013, Epply-Schmidt earned bronze at U.S. Fencing’s North American Cup, and in 2014 he won bronze at the USA Fencing National Championships.
Looking forward, Epply-Schmidt says he is reviewing his options, but he knows he will miss teaching.
“I loved working with middle [school]-aged kids; it was exciting to see their leaps of intellectual progress,” he says. “I also loved the sense of passing great ideas on to the next generation. It has been as rewarding as my 50-plus years of fencing.”