For Michael Mills and his family, fencing is more than just a sport — it’s a tradition.
Penn’s sophomore sabre, who finished 16th at last weekend’s NCAA Fencing Championships in Columbus, Ohio, was introduced to the sport by his father, Robert, an All-Ivy fencer at Columbia.
“He’s probably the biggest inspiration [to me] in college fencing,” Michael says. “He’s always encouraged me and brought me to practice, did everything he needed to do to make sure I was able to fence and do well.”
Michael’s father didn’t pick favorites though. Before sharing his love of the sport with Michael, he also taught Michael’s older brother Alex, who just finished his collegiate career at Princeton as a four-time All-Ivy selection and four-time All-American.
“We both kind of push each other to do well,” Michael says of his brother, who tied for third in foil at the NCAAs this weekend. “When we were younger, we used to go to practice together all the time.”
The two brothers were raised to become fencers, and they both have done a good job thus far defending their family’s honor. But, as usual, sibling bragging rights are always at stake.
“We’re not the same weapon, so we haven’t fenced against each other. But we definitely have a little competitiveness so far as getting results,” Michael says.
Obviously, it doesn’t help that Alex fences for the rival Tigers, who won the 2012 Ivy Championship. But for Michael, there’s no such thing as a “nasty rivalry” — it’s “more like a friendly one.”
And of course, when the father and sons are together, one topic dominates every discussion.
“It’s something we can [all] relate to, so we do kind of talk about that a lot,” Michael says. “It’s something we’ve been doing for so long, we’ve just become accustomed to it. It’s part of our ritual almost. We talk fencing all the time.”
While Michael isn’t sure what role fencing will play when he’s a father, he knows that the tradition of the sport will be carried on in his family.
“I haven’t really thought about my kids, but I would probably introduce it to them at some point,” he believes. “Also, my cousins have picked up fencing. It’s definitely something that influenced a lot of my family and it’ll probably be around for a while.”
After Alex graduates in May, Michael will be the only member of his family left competing in college. But you can expect another member of the family to take the same path soon, and one day the Mills might very well be the ‘First Family’ of Ivy League fencing.