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Recognition for a Great Wildcat

Fencing - Northwestern’s Most Successful Sport

Northwestern is now considered a “decent” sports team. A number of Big Ten football blogs consider NU to be a consistent “mid-tier team.” While I prefer to hear that the Wildcats are a “Top-tier team,” I also realize that during the Dark Times they were a “doormat.” Things are far better than they used to be.

During the Dark Football Times there was at least one bright light within Northwestern athletics - the Wildcat Fencing Team (both Men’s and Women’s). Both were regular winners under Laurie. And now NU has over 1,000 fencing wins.

Laurie Schiller - Northwestern’s Only 1,000+ Winner

I learned to fence under then instructor Lawrence “Laurie” Schiller. At that end of the classes, the then NU Fencing coach (not Laurie) received a much more lucrative position at another Big Ten school. The NU team of that time had a couple of stars who were encouraged. The rest were ignored. Before the former coach left, she gathered all of the fencers to announce her departure. It was a total no-class speech. We were told we were losers, would always be losers, and she was leaving us because of that. It was ugly. Then she said Laurie was the new coach. And left.

At the end of a year of fencing classes, I tried out for the Men’s Fencing Team and made it. I wasn’t the best or most graceful fencer - but I was willing to rumble with anyone, so I became a sabre fencer. Laurie knew how to pick out his athletes’ strengths and use them. I was on the fencing strip for Laurie’s first win. (At Homecoming this past year he said that he was “terrified” when the bout went to 4-4 and the next touch would determine the match winner...but that is another column another day.)

We got a few wins that first year. The second year was even better. During that second year we faced a particular Big Ten team with NU’s former fencing coach. The week before the match, Coach Schiller very politely pointed out that we had been dissed and that it was our time to prove the former NU coach wrong. Laurie was not mean or vindictive about how he was told he was a loser; he was far more upset that we - the athletes - were dissed. Northwestern’s Fencing Team got the win. I remember how proud we were after the win. Laurie insisted that we act with class and respect toward the former coach - the one who showed no respect to us. Laurie led by example and showed the upmost professionalism and class; he got us to act with class as well. Back on campus, we were heroes - a Wildcat team had defeated a Buckeye team. Coach deserved all the credit for bringing out the very best in all of us, pushing us, making all of us winners.

Fast forward over 1,000 wins later. Sports Illustrated ran an article on his 1,000th win in 2010. Chicagomag.com recently ran an article on the Northwestern Fencing dynasty that Laurie built: Laurie Schiller, the Most Successful College Coach You've Never Heard Of. The university is paying homage to its winningest coach - Lawrence “Laurie” Schiller by naming the lobby at Patten Gym “The Laurie Schiller Lobby.”

I hope that one of these days they name the whole gym after him. He deserves it. Laurie is a class act and has been for decades. He’ll always be “Coach” to all of us Fencing Alumni. I look forward to his induction into the Northwestern Athletics Hall of Fame.

Go ‘Cats!

BJ Mitchell (Former NUMB Spirit Leader)




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