Fencing coach dies in accident, two students seriously injured

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November 11, 2007

1:16 PM

The College’s club fencing coach, Pete Conomikes, died yesterday in a car accident while traveling with the team to a fencing competition.

p. Three students were involved in the crash, and two of them are seriously injured.

p. The following letter was sent today by Vice President of Student Affairs Sam Sadler to the College community:

p. “It is with a deep sense of sadness that I write to share the news with you of a tragic automobile accident that occurred yesterday afternoon (around 1 p.m.) on Interstate 64 near the I-64/ I -295 interchange outside of Richmond. Venerable William and Mary Fencing Club Coach, Pete Conomikes, was killed in the accident and three William and Mary Fencing Club members were injured in the crash – two of them seriously. Spencer Butts and Ben Gutenberg are hospitalized at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center (Medical College of Virginia) and are in critical but stable condition. The third student, Matt Peppe, has been treated and released from the hospital.

p. “Details of the accident are still not available though it does appear that it was a single car event. The team was traveling in two vehicles, the car with its four occupants followed by a College van carrying other team members. The group was on its way to Haverford, Pennsylvania to compete in a Middle Atlantic Collegiate Fencing Association team event.

p. “The students in the Fencing Club join me in asking that you keep their injured teammates (and their families) in your thoughts and prayers as well as the wife, family members, and friends of their beloved coach, Pete Conomikes.

p. “Pete Conomikes was a remarkable man, an extraordinary athlete, he began his fencing career at Columbia University in 1940 and spent several of his early years training under the fencing master, Giorgio Santelli. During much of a long career, he was an A – rated fencer in his specialty, epee. At one point, remarkably, he was A – rated on all three of the weapons used in the sport. At William and Mary, while a legend for his fencing skills, it was his coaching and his affection for the athletes he taught and trained that defined him. He joined the coaching staff of the College in 1972, when fencing was a varsity sport, and he served as head coach until 1995 when the sport became a club. Undaunted by the change in status, he continued coaching the club and teaching a beginning fencing class until the present time, even though he was 86 years old. Perhaps a recent quote on the Tribe Fencing page says it best, “He is a joy to learn from, and his bladework is still better than yours.”

p. “Mr. Conomikes reputation and influence extended far beyond the campus and his coaching skill was recognized by many honors and awards. In the fencing community, one colleague referred to him as a “giant.” Many of his fencers have continued competition beyond college and his work has helped preserve competitive fencing through his support of the Middle Atlantic Collegiate Fencing Association. He will be missed by all who knew him. Because of his efforts and dedication he leaves a proud legacy of excellence in fencing at William and Mary and more importantly gratitude, deep affection and respect in the hearts of all those whom he has taught and coached.

p. “We are extending care, both in Richmond and here on campus, to the members of the Fencing Club and to the families of our injured students. I know you will want to provide support for them and to remember Mr. Conomikes in your own way. The sense of community we share at William and Mary is a remarkable source of strength and healing. With that in mind, I felt you would want to know about this tragic accident.”

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