Sports Performance Academy Launches First Jedi Fencing School From Pre-K to 5th Grade

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The O-PA! Performance Academy in Bernardsville recently opened a state-of-the-art facility to serve as a training center for athletes of all age ranges.

“I find that kids who fence are exceptional, and I want to advance the development of fencing as a primary sport." Olivia Banyon, Founder

The O-PA! Performance Academy in Bernardsville recently opened a state-of-the-art facility to serve as a training center for athletes of all age ranges. Inspired by the growing number of fencer athletes in the region and the U.S. fencing team’s recent success at the last Olympics, the goal of O-PA! is to introduce Pre-K-5th Grade students to fencing, as well as provide students in middle school and high school, with the cross training and skills to make them a powerhouse in competition.

Jedi School

Working with children as young as age three, the O-PA! Jedi School is excited to have copyrighted an early education system for youth from pre-K through grade 8 that emphasizes sportsmanship, focus, hand-eye coordination, blade work, footwork, and critical problem solving.

This is achieved by exploring fencing through athletic and mental games that help young fencers play within the framework of the techniques. Much like peewee sports, where the emphasis is on the building blocks, the goal is to learn and have fun. At O-PA!, as young fencers gain experience and maturity, they are promoted to a more advanced level once they demonstrate the required skills and ability.

Sherry Wrana, O-PA! Director, helped to develop this comprehensive program. “The Little Jedi, Cadet Jedi, and Jedi Fencers have been so focused and intrigued by fencing.”

She adds, “I only wish we had something like this when my son was 3 and using a stick in daily duels with our backyard tree. He finally got an Epee in his hand in the 8th grade and ‘Physical Chess’ became his sport.”

With more than 30% of High School Fencers advancing to NCAA Collegiate Teams, Wrana is thrilled that her son, who recently qualified for the USFA Junior Olympics, chose fencing and is a starter on his high school team.

O-PA! provides specific middle school programs to encourage skill development for new fencers in all 3 weapons. The goal of each program is to learn fencing footwork, eye-hand coordination and blade work while becoming more self-aware and confident.

A talented team of coaches is at the forefront of O-PA!’s plan to develop and train world-class fencers, including former high school and NCAA fencers, Danny Burke and Alex van den Bergh. Both Burke and van den Bergh are “A” rated fencers who continue to compete in USFA events. Rounding out the fencing staff are former high school and NCAA fencers Dmitri Lamianski, a two-time Belarus Jr. World Sabre Team member, and Jared Hammond, a two-time US Jr. World Sabre Team member. Hammond is currently the head coach of the fencing program at Bernards High School.

Cross-Training for the Whole Athlete

With an unparalleled commitment to training the whole athlete, O-PA! provides cross-training programs designed specifically for fencers. Under the leadership of Ryan Stevens, a Certified Athletic Trainer and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, the O-PA! cross training program incorporates SPARQ and FMS training systems.

SPARQ (Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction, and Quickness) is the scoring system designed to measure sport-specific athleticism. FMS (Functional Movement Screen) identifies the functional limitations and asymmetries of an athlete. These issues can reduce the effects of functional training and physical conditioning.

“By combining these scores, we work with the athlete to design a program individually suited for their training needs.” Stevens elaborates, "With a sport such as fencing, the body is typically trained using repetitive motions during practice. One could equate this to the ballplayer who throws year-round or the runner who only runs. These repetitive motions, while extremely important to improve technique and neuromuscular memory needed to compete in the sport, can also lead to tissue breakdowns in overused muscles, strength and flexibility asymmetries, and joint compensation situations which can lead to injury and decrease performance.”

Cross-training programs at O-PA! focus on keeping the body healthy and maximizing performance through stability, mobility, and strength training exercises in a way that balances the body and limits unnecessary movements and strain on the tendons, joints and muscles. Stevens, concludes, “By improving overall athleticism through proper cross-training power and quickness drills, a fencer will experience a cross-over effect of improved lunge power and reactionary quickness on the piste."

Leading the Way in Fencing & Equestrian Sports

Olivia Banyon, of Far Hills, NJ, is the sole investor, owner and President of O-PA!, LLC. With a background in Outcomes Research, she developed the business concept for O-PA! in 2014 after seeing three primary patterns: young children with unnecessary athletic injuries and asymmetries, a rising number of competitive fencers with strong academic focus and problem- solving skills being accepted into prestigious schools, and the desperate need for cross training in niche sports.

"My son is a great student who loves to fence, but he is also quite shy. His teammates mentored him and embraced him from the start. They are all great kids who routinely lead by example, teach each other, and work hard.” Banyon continues, “I find that kids who fence are exceptional, and I want to advance the development of fencing as a primary sport. I feel compelled to expand these qualities, develop more fencers, at an earlier age, and more profoundly."

Banyon’s personal passion is the equestrian sport of Dressage, another sport that is considered somewhat “elite” but it comes with a high injury rate. "Back, hip, shoulder injuries and other stability deficiencies are quite common in this sport and I want to increase the athletic performance of riders overall," Banyon says.

Fencing and Equestrian are Olympic sports and the U.S. is increasing its presence on an international level in these sports, recently winning silver and gold at the 2012 Olympics in London. Banyon emphasizes, “These athletes deserve dedicated training venues and O-PA! offers just that with specialized cross-training focused on core stability, strength, agility, athlete yoga, sports nutrition, and psychology.”

“My goal is outcomes. I am 100% committed to showing the community of athletes, coaches, and educators that the right cross-training approaches will yield positive changes in development, injury reduction, and performance for both sports and academics." Crediting her exceptional team, Banyon adds, "We have developed a complete package that will produce the most prepared athletes for long-term success."

O-PA! has created a space that could be described as a “country club for kids.” Along with a state-of-the-art fitness facility, there is a Café, cozy lounge area, and “Mind Bar” complete with computer stations. All represent the O-PA! Performance Academy’s commitment to giving our youth a foundation for fitness, nutrition and leadership.

O-PA! is open 7 days a week and classes range from $25-35 per single class. Best results are seen when enrolled in 8-week sessions where progress is measured both before and after enrollment. To contact us, email: opa(at)opaacademy(dot)com or call 844-672-7373 (OPA-PERF). More information about program offerings and class schedules are available at http://www.opaacademy.com.

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Ryan Stevens
@OPAPerformance
since: 08/2014
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