Competitor, Coach, Club Director, Tournament Official, and Adminstrator.
James Anthony Campoli was born April 6, 1926 in Newcastle PA. In 1943, at the age of 17, he picked up his first fencing weapon by joining the fencing team at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. His imagination had been fired by swashbuckler movies and a fencing demonstration. In a school essay he enthused,“I like saber more than foil because of the action. When fencing saber, I am filled with an exhilaration which increases with the clash of steel and the thud of a hit. I think the cavaliers, who fought for the joy of fighting, got the same feeling.”
By 1946 he was the top novice foil fencer in Michigan, followed by further honors at the novice, junior, and intermediate level across all three weapons. By 1949 he was the top epee fencer in the state, taking 1st place at the Michigan State championship. Those years, between 1943 and 1949 were instrumental to Jim’s subsequent lifelong commitment to the sport.
1943: Beginnings in Fencing
Jim received his early fencing training from Bela de Tuscan, at the Salle de Tuscan, 965 E. Jefferson Ave., Detroit. During the war, while Jim was a student and fencer at Cass Technical high school, his father’s work on the Manhattan Project necessitated his parents moving from Detroit. In exchange for maintenance duties, deTuscan offered Jim a small apartment above the Salle and much more—a mentorship that changed Jim’s life. Soon Jim was teaching classes at the Salle.
1945-1949: Varsity Fencing, Lawrence Institute of Technology
While working towards his BS in Industrial Engineering (1949) and BS in Business Administration (1950), Jim also held the role of head coach of the Lawrence Institute of Technology fencing team, the Blue Devils, beginning his freshman year. He often recalled his conversation with the athletic director about reinstating fencing as a varsity sport, after a hiatus during the war. Lacking coaching resources, the athletic director was agreeable, but only if Jim ran the program himself. Jim used to joke that he ended up running the fencing team because he couldn’t earn a place on the school’s excellent basketball team, loved fencing, and worked for free.
The 1946–47 season was the most successful ever for the Blue Devils. However, this season was notable in Jim’s life for another reason. During the years at Lawrence Tech, he had continued coaching at Salle de Tuscan; in 1946 his future wife, MaryJane, enrolled in his class. MaryJane once recalled that these were the days before electrical epee, when every touch was marked by red chalk that had to be carefully cleaned from the jacket before a match could continue.
By Jim’s graduation in 1949, the yearbook crowed that he had been “instrumental in establishing Lawrence Tech as a fencing powerhouse”. That year the team and its individual members took many top honors at the Michigan collegiate level and in non-collegiate competition in the state.
1950s and 1960s: Peak Competitive Years
After graduation, Jim continued coaching at Lawrence Tech and Salle de Tuscan, but also at the Highland Park Fencing Club near Detroit, where members paid dues of $0.50 per month in 1954. In 1965, the National Fencing Coach’s Association of American on conferred on Jim the title of Fencing Master. He also became active in the administrative side of fencing, in 1958 becoming president of the Michigan Division of the Amateur Fencers League of America (AFLA, renamed USFA in 1981).
Campoli coaching, Detroit 1954
However, it was his competitive record that earned Jim most renown during this period. He continued to be an important competitor in the Midwest and made his mark nationally as well.
He took 1st in foil and 3rd in saber at the Midwest Championships in 1952 and at the Detroit preliminary tryouts for the 1952 Olympic team, earning a place on the 1952 15-man Olympic Squad in these weapons. In 1955 he dominated the Michigan State Championship, taking top honors across all three weapons. He also dominated the Midwest Championship, placing 1st in saber and 2nd in foil, but his biggest accomplishment came with the US National title that he won with his fellow Michigan fencers in 1958.
1958, Campoli won the US National Team Epee Championship w/ Berry, Calkins and Martinez
Also, in 1958, his multi-weapon mastery was again evident. he placed 2nd in saber and 3rd in foil at the Michigan State Championship, and placed 3rd in foil at the Midwest Championship.
Beginning in the 1960’s, Jim’s love for saber showed in his competitive results. At the Michigan State Championships, he took 1st in saber in 1961, 1962, and 1964, and 3rd in 1969 (as well as 4th in foil). At the Midwest Championships he took 1st in saber in 1962 and 1967, and 2nd in 1960, 1966, and 1968. In 1963 he placed 2nd in saber in the Midwest Championships. While living in Canada, Jim often placed among the top contenders at the Canadian Heroes Memorial Fencing Tournament and other major tournaments, and was ranked nationally in sabre.
Michigan State Championship, sabre 1969
Left to right: Bill Goering, unknown, Jim Campoli, unknown
2002 World Veteran’s Fencing Championships