Nearly one year ago, the Stanford fencing team’s future was nothing short of dire. Now, after months of painstaking fundraising efforts and one miraculous donation, the program has new life.
On Monday, the Stanford Fencing Association, formerly named Save Stanford Fencing, announced in front of a select crowd of fencers, coaches, community members and donors that the team had received a $1.25 million donation from alumnus Jimi Jung ’04 of Korea, allowing the team to remain a varsity sport for at least four more years.
The money will cover operating costs while the team attempts to create a $5 million-$8 million endowment.
“It’s shocking,” said sophomore sabre Suraya Omar. “It’s amazingly generous. I cannot get over how appreciative we are. I feel this will be a lot of motivation for us to be really successful in the next few years.”
“I’m stunned,” added Melody Lowman, former Save Stanford Fencing chair and mother of senior sabre Chris Lowman. “I’m overjoyed. Eleven and a half months ago, it seemed like we might not be able to do it. But this has been just a fabulous committee and everybody has worked incredibly hard.”
Jung, the CEO and founder of Lourus & Education Co., Lourus Sports Management Company and Lourus Fencing Club, was greeted by boisterous cheers and applause from the small crowd upon his announcement. He said that he made the donation in part because he felt it was a way he could “give back to the younger generations.”
Prior to Jung’s donation, the situation surrounding the fencing program was ominous. Approximately 11.5 months ago, Stanford Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby alerted the team that it would be cut if it could not raise the operating cost, $250,000, for the 2009-10 season as well as demonstrate sufficient progress in creating an endowment.
While the team can now return its focus to fencing with high spirits, many members of the program, including head coach Lisa Milgram, recalled just how dismal the situation had appeared.
“In the beginning of this, I was wondering where I would coach next,” Milgram said. “It was a herculean task that was given to us. Jimi’s gift now extends that opportunity for us to come up with an endowment and gives us a little bit of room to breathe.”
When asked if she felt the team would be able to maintain its optimism and raise enough money to create an endowment, Milgram was quick to respond.
“Absolutely,” she said. “I absolutely believe that that’s going to happen. While I may have been worried at the beginning, I now believe wholeheartedly that $8 million will be inherited.”
“11.5 months ago it didn’t seem like we were going to get five years of budget plus seed money for an endowment – and we did,” Lowman added. “So I have to say, ‘we have to raise eight million dollars and an endowment for fencing? Why not?’”
In addition to the $1.25 million donation from Jung, the program also received a boost from an anonymous donor, who gave $100,000 toward a permanent endowment, named The Stanford Fencing Legends Fund. The fund honors four Stanford fencing icons: fencers George Domolky ’59 and Jean Perhem Helliwell ’47, and coaches Sherry Posthumus and Zoran Tulum.
From a competition perspective, the news of the potential cut created a tremendous obstacle for the team in the recruiting world. However, the program was pleasantly surprised with the newly committed talent and the future prospects of the team.
“Last year was difficult because this news came out last year,” Milgram said. “Making sure that my top recruits actually signed on and decided to come was difficult, but it happened. And this year has been difficult. The word out there is that we may not have a program. Now the word will come out that we do, and it will be just a small hiccup in recruiting.”
As for the question of whether the team will be able to perform at the same level next season?
“Better,” Milgram said. “Without question.”
The Stanford fencing team recently placed ninth at the NCAA Championships. This marks the second consecutive season that Stanford has finished ninth in the nation.