Fencers learn leadership, confidence at top-ranked Innovation Academy

Weekend win

The Innovation Academy fencing team placed first in the fourth tournament of the season against Milton, Dunwoody, Decatur, Lambert and North Springs high schools Dec. 9. 

Senior team captain Anna Donges received the gold medal for women. Junior team captain Eric Zhang placed first for men, and Krishiv Patel won the silver medal. 

Innovation Academy retains its number one ranking in the Georgia High School Fencing League.  

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The Innovation Academy fencing club is dominating state rankings at a school dominated by academics. 

Opened in 2021, Innovation Academy on Milton Avenue in Alpharetta is a STEM magnet school where students can hone their skills in engineering, health sciences and information technology. The school only has one Georgia High School Association sport: eSports. 

Despite the lack of a strong athletic presence, the school joined the Georgia High School Fencing League on behalf of its growing fencing club. 

Now, Innovation Academy is ranked number one in both the men and the women categories of the league’s 19 member schools, and its team boasts more than 80 members, compared to the average high school team of 25 to 35. 


Innovation Academy fencing club head coach Bill Donges addresses his women athletes at the start of practice Dec. 7. Donges’ granddaughter Anna Donges, at right, is the highest ranked female fencer on the team and second overall in the Georgia High School Fencing League. SHELBY ISRAEL/APPEN MEDIA

The club is led by head coach Bill Donges, a retired Navy captain who started his own fencing career at Newfield High School in Selden, New York. There, he fenced under famed Coach Tom Cakouros and went on to become captain. 

In addition to his career at Newfield, Donges served as fencing captain at the U.S. Naval Academy. 

“I was on gifted teams and did really well,” he said. “We did really well.”

But, Donges said he went many years without thinking about fencing until seeing a local tournament in the Dunwoody Crier. There, he said people asked him to take up coaching, and soon Donges found himself heading the team at North Springs High School. 

Donges began at the newly opened Innovation Academy in 2021. His granddaughter Anna Donges, who had fenced under his guidance at North Springs, now studies and fences at Innovation Academy. 

Another former fencer at North Springs, Tyler McCubbins, also joined Donges at Innovation Academy to serve as assistant coach. 

Innovation Academy fencers practice lunges during warm-ups before practice Dec. 7. Practice begins every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. with head coach Bill Donges’ favorite song, “Dance Monkey” by Tones and I. SHELBY ISRAEL/APPEN MEDIA

Every Thursday, Donges clears the tables and chairs from the cafeteria just before the final bell rings. Innovation Academy lacks a gym, so the 15 strips for practice are laid out in the cafeteria. 

Practice begins at 4:30 p.m. when Tones and I’s “Dance Monkey” begins playing from a large speaker. After warm-ups, Donges and the team’s eight captains deliver remarks to prepare the fencers before tournaments.  

Senior captain Rebecca Hahn said she was new to fencing when she joined the team as a sophomore, but she immediately found friends and a community through the sport. 

Hahn said fencing with the team taught her self confidence and how to value herself.

“I value myself more because fencing helps you kind of figure out who you are as a person, because it makes you confront how you would react under pressure,” she said.

Two Innovation Academy fencers engage in a practice bout Dec. 7. Both the womens and mens teams at Innovation Academy are ranked first in the Georgia High School Fencing League. SHELBY ISRAEL/APPEN MEDIA

Now in her third year on the team, Hahn is ranked sixth in the Fencing League’s womens individual standings and second in the Innovation club. 

“I wanted to teach new people how to fence so they could become confident and find friends and a community like I did because I love this team,” Hahn said. “I love the effort they put in. I love their team spirit.”

Donges emphasized fencing is more than a physical sport. It combines strategy with quick thinking. The Innovation club’s discipline, epee, opens the entirety of an opponent’s body to strikes, which forces fencers to consider their opponent’s moves to land the first one.  

Donges’ granddaughter Anna is the highest ranked female fencer on the team and second overall in the High School Fencing League. She is also a senior captain. 

She said she always longed for a fencing team experience, but she was not certain she could start a team at Innovation Academy because of its lack of sports. 

After the school approved fencing as a club, she found the experience she was looking for, and she said she has loved watching her fellow fencers grow. 

“One of the aspects that I really wanted was a team part of it,” Anna Donges said. “So, as an individual fencer, even outside the league, you have teams, but it’s very individual. You don’t always have people behind your back and stuff. So, I wanted the team experience, and this team has really delivered with that.”

Innovation Academy head fencing coach Bill Donges gives a lesson to a fencer at practice Dec. 7. While Donges oversees fencers during their warm-ups and practice bouts, he also provides one-on-one coaching to refine his students’ skills. SHELBY ISRAEL/APPEN MEDIA

Anna Donges said one of the most rewarding aspects of her experience is seeing fencers who had never touched a sword be awarded medals beside her. 

Bill Donges expressed a similar sentiment. Although he loves watching his team win, he said the real joy is seeing his students grow. He hopes for his fencers to be confident in themselves and become leaders on and off the strip. 

“I want them to be leaders in everything they do,” he said. 

Reach Shelby Israel at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @shelbyisrael1.


Shelby Israel

Shelby Israel

Staff Reporter

Related Posts