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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Fencing: Tumultuous journey leads coach to Notre Dame

During the late seventies Irish coach Janusz Bednarski was an economics professor at the SGPiS Business College in Warsaw in his home country of Poland, a state at that time controlled by the Soviet Union. Frustrated by the economic environment of Poland, Bednarski decided to switch teaching to physical education and coaching.

"At that time there was no market for me to continue my work," Bednarski said. "So I switched."

The decision has worked out well for Bedarski and has brought him across the globe to teach his craft. Over forty years later, Bednarski is 4,000 miles from his home and the coach of the defending national champion Irish, as well as the 2010-2011 NCAA coach of the year. The United States Fencing Coaches Association honored Bednarski with their highest award Monday.

Bednarski first came to the United States after leading Poland's national team for ten years until 1988, when he left to take a post at a private fencing club near Colorado Springs. Bednarski worked with many of the top American Olympic fencers, eventually ascending to head coach of the American Olympic team in 1993. Just two years later, he would find himself in South Bend.

"It was almost kind of an accident that I ended up at Notre Dame," Bednarski said. "I was running Poland's national team, which was one of the tops in the world at the time. Then I came to the United States, but I was looking for a chance to work at a university. I sort of fell into this job. I was attracted to the athletic tradition, academic standards and the Catholic tradition of this place."

Since his arrival, Bednarksi has guided the Irish fencing program to three national championships in 2003, 2005 and 2011 and has overseen Notre Dame fencers who have gone on to thrive in international competition.

To junior James Kaull, Bednarski's success stems from his precision and organization.

"He's a fantastic organizer," Kaull said. "We're always where we're supposed to be all the time. There's never any confusion."

The ability to run a program that includes over 50 athletes is a strongpoint of Bednarski's that compliments his technical knowledge and expertise.

"He's great with our individual lessons and techniques," Kaull said. "He just really likes teaching the sport and helping people."

The recognition from the USFCA is the first of Bednarski's career, although he did garner the association's Midwest Coach of the Year award in 1997 and 1998.

"The honor is as much mine as it is all those who worked with this program and me," Bednarski said.

In that vein, in just a week a new member of the Irish coaching staff will be introduced. Cedric Loiseau will become the new epeé coach, a position that has been vacant for most of the year and has been held in part by Kaull.

"Loiseau came and led a practice over break," Kaull said. "We're really excited to have him here. He really knows what he's doing."

Bednarski believes Loiseau's addition to his staff will allow the Irish to flourish for years to come.

Contact Conor Kelly at