What you see is not what you get with Rory Burke.
The St. John’s Prep senior from Andover is 6-foot-3, thin and does not give the impression of being a natural athlete.
But, says 16-year St. John’s fencing coach Jim Carter, he’s just perfect as an epee specialist in the sport.
“He’s extremely tall and that’s important because reach matters in epee, which is why most epee fencers tend to be tall,” said Carter. “And he’s thin, which gives you a smaller target area.
“But most of all, he’s smart because you have to be thinking all the time. It’s like chess. You have to anticipate and you have to be planning ahead, waiting for an opening.”
Burke used these attributes last year to win a gold medal at state in the individual epee competition and, in the team competition, to help lead the Eagles to their ninth straight state crown.
And now, with the season soon to get underway, Burke is preparing with gusto by joining his teammates in the running and conditioning part of the preseason.
Some might thinks that fencing is more stationary, and doesn’t require much running, but that’s not so according to Burke.
“Ninety percent of fencing is footwork and you have to be in condition,” he said. “It can be draining and you have to be ready to make your move.”
But, as Carter said, fencing also involves the mental part of sports, which is exactly why Burke likes fencing. With his brother Devin two years older and already on the St. John’s team, he took it up the summer before his freshman year and has made it a year-round passion ever since.
“I like that it (fencing) mixes strategy with physical ability,” said Burke. “Being fast and technical isn’t enough to be good.”
Burke gets his strategic skills from years of training, much of which has been with former Olympian Molly Sullivan Sliney of Haverhill, as well as his natural smarts. While taking predominant honors and AP classes, he has a 4.25 weighted GPA.
His academic prowess should help him pursue fencing in college because, says Carter (and Burke agrees), he’s not quite on the level of a scholarship recruit. So the plan is to get into a good fencing school on his academic merits and then walk-on for fencing.
Thus, he’s applied to Brown and Notre Dame, which happens to be the alma mater of the highly regarded Sliney, who was an All-American there.
“He can definitely fence in college if he gets the chance,” said Carter, who is also high on another Andover fencer, captain Taylor Brook-Fisher. “It’s just about getting that chance.”
So Burke continues to run, and continues to work hard on his studies with the realization — like any good student-athlete — that you can’t get by with just the books or the athletic talent when both are so very important as a tandem.
Divisions of fencing
The three types of swords used in fencing competition are the Foil, the Sabre and the Epee. Basically, the Foil is used to hit the torso and the back, the Sabre for the area above the waist, while the Epee can be used to hit any area of the body.
The Epee is a much heavier weapon compared to the Sabre and the Foil and its scoring is based on mere touches.
Meet Rory Burke
School, year: St. John’s Prep, ‘14
Background: Largely learned sport from former Olympian Molly Sullivan Sliney of Haverhill
Family link: Older brother Devin fenced at St. John’s
Academics: Owns 4.25 GPA, has taken seven AP classes
College plans: Hopes to attend Notre Dame and fence there