Joe Pechinsky with Cathy McClellan
Joe began fencing back in the early 1960’s. He was a coach of wrestling at Salem YMCA (Salem, MA) and severely injured his right knee during a sparring bout with one of his students. It put him out of commission for quite a while. One of his wrestlers also knew fencing and offered to teach Joe what he knew while he was still recuperating and couldn’t wrestle. Joe became very intrigued with fencing and decided he wanted to devote himself to teaching it to the kids. To learn more he went into Boston and convinced the fencing coach there at the time (well known and I wish I could remember the name) (If you went through some names of coaches in Boston during that era I would probably know it if I heard it.) Joe took private lessons from that coach and fenced in a few competitions but he decided he wasn’t going to compete but, instead, devote himself to teaching fencing. [I tried fencing a few touches with Joe once or twice. He was absolutely amazing with is finger dexterity and subtle technique that could penetrate any defense I would try to use and getting through to his target was phenomenally difficult].
Joe’s first students came from the Salem YMCA and included Mike Tarracio, Sally Pechinsky, the Mullarkey brothers (Jim, Jackie and Eddie), Scotty Bozek, Lenny Sullivan, Craig Grey, many others of the early era pre 1970. Joe started getting more girls to fence in the early 70’s, Caroline Cogswell, Barbara Keel, Evelyn Esvanik, Jana Angelakis. I started in 1974/75 then came Molly Sullivan, MJ O’Neill and her brother Jim, Jane Hall, Janice Hynes. All of the women except for Barbara Keel that I just listed were on at least on of the National Champion women’s foil teams from of 1982, 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1989. I was on all of those teams, Jana was on all of them except 1989.Molly was on 1985 through 89 as was MJ. and Jane Hall.
Joe had a fencer of his on every Olympic team from 1968 through 2000. 68 Olympics – Sally Pechinsky, 72 and 76 Olympics – Scotty Bozek, 80, 84 Olympics – Jana Angelakis; 88, 92 Olympics – Molly Sullivan and MJ O’Neill and MJ’s brother Jim made the 88 Olympics. You need to check my facts about this from here but, Jedi Dupre started with Joe and for many years his family flew Joe down to New Jersey during the school year so Joe could give him lessons through the year. Summers they were in Peabody so lessons continued in Peabody. I’m not sure if Jedi was on the 96 Olympic team but I’m pretty sure he was on the 2000 and 2004 teams. Joe was really hoping that I would be on the 96 Olympic team for women’s epee. I just didn’t have the financial capacity to get to all of the “A” Cups since I at that time was not on the National Team but was 11th and working my way back up the ladder. I had to call it quits in the spring of 96 for my bid for the Olympics.
Joe never took a dime for any of his coaching. In fact, many times Joe helped me with a little money here and there. He gave me some equipment. He always remember my birthday with a beautiful card that he wrote by hand with his beautiful calligraphy scroll work. Joe would take me to New York City from Peabody via train. I would fence (usually make it to a finals) and we would come home in a day. One trip he took me to see the Rockettes at the Radio City Music Hall. Joe was a lot like a second father to me.
Joe also produced many National Champions also NCAA/collegiate champions. Many of his fencers went to college on athletic fencing scholarships. I can tell you for sure about the following: Michael Sullivan (sabre), Daryl Grey (sabre), Jeff Brown (foil), Charles Higgs-Coulthard (foil), Gregor Petranek (epee), Jeffery Pechinsky (epee), Cathy McClellan (foil), Jana Angelakis (foil), Molly Sullivan (foil), MJ O’Neill (foil), Jim O’Neill (epee), Jane Hell (foil), Janice Hynes (foil). I think that Scotty Bozek also and probably Sally Pechinsky though I’m not positive.
National individual Champions were: Sally Pechinsky, Scott Bozek (epee), Michael Sullivan Junior and NCAA (sabre), Jana Angelakis (3 times), Cathy McClellan (epee twice), Molly Sullivan (2 times), MJ O’Neill, Jim O’Neill (I think).
Team National Championships were 5 only in women’s foil.
Joe continued coaching right up the the day he fell on some stairs in the gym during a fencing practice in Peabody, MA and he broke his hip in August of 2006. He never gave another fencing lesson again. He resides in a nursing home facility in Danvers, MA close to where he lived his life and coached those many years.
His life was always one of activity and adventure. To support himself and his fencing he was firefighter with the Peabody Fire Dept. When I first started with Joe he would give us fencing lessons in the fire station between the fire trucks. i was always afraid I would nick the paint on one of those expensive trucks but Joe never held back when giving a lesson. This continued until he retired. One of Joe’s stories was of how he would bungie jump from the top of the ladder truck’s (using ropes) extended ladder as a thrill for the spectators at festivals. Joe was an avid mountain climber so whenever a fire required someone to scale the inside of an elevator shaft, they called Joe. Joe was also a pilot until his license got revoked because he buzzed the monument in Peabody Square one day. Joe would take us climbing up Mt. Washington in New Hampshire (New England’s highest mountain over 6000 feet) for conditioning. Joe loves to walk and would take walks for miles every place he traveled. It was very hard to keep up with Joe walking.
Joe always made us feel like we were representing him, the club, Peabody, and the sport of fencing and that each deserved a great deal of respect. If we traveled with him he wanted us to be dressed nicely. We would never – ever use a swear word in front of Joe and that usually carried over into our everyday life as well. I have never heard Joe use a swear word. His idea of swearing was to say “Barn Door”. The most unkind thing I heard him say about someone was to call them an idiot or a hooligan, referring to a criminal or a punk.
Joe is a great example for all of us and he left an impression on us that all of us who are coaching today are tranferring to our new students as we carry on the “Joe Pechinsky” style of fencing.