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Danny Solomon

Receives innaugural USA Fencing National High School Coach of the Year honor

Fencing coach Jeff Salmon receives the first USA Fencing High School Coach of the Year award from former Penn State University head coach Emmanuil Kaidanov. Photo from Jennie Salmon

Jeff Salmon is an accomplished fencer in his own right, but he now he has proof that his prodigies are receiving coaching that is second to none in the United States.

The acclaimed fencer and head coach of the boys team at Ward Melville High School was named the inaugural winner of the USA Fencing High School Coach of the Year award.

“The word honor doesn’t even come close,” said Salmon, a Mount Sinai resident and owner of Mission Fencing Center in Rocky Point. “It’s a cool award, it’s an amazing honor and it makes you reflect on a lifetime of work.”

Jeff Salmon teaches his daughter Olivia out on the strip. Photo from Jennie Salmon

Eighteen individuals from high schools in six different states were nominated for the prestigious award.

Under Salmon’s leadership, Ward Melville’s teams have continued a winning tradition, including capturing the 2016-17 Long Island championship. The program has maintained a 158-match winning streak that ranks among the most impressive in interscholastic athletics nationwide.

“Jeff’s done so much for the kids here, but promoted the sport throughout Suffolk County, the state and the nation,” Ward Melville athletic director Peter Melore said. “Jeff’s a fantastic coach and he’s been honored in so many ways on local levels, it was time for him to be recognized at the national level.”

The Comsewogue High School graduate who originally competed in foil made the switch to sabre at Penn State University. Although he was a Suffolk County champion and Empire State Games gold medalist while he was a Warrior, the switch proved to work in Salmon’s favor.

“The Penn State team had strong foilers and could use a sabre fencer,” he said. “I was a little disappointed with my achievements in foil, so I was willing to accept the new challenge. It benefited me to switch and I adapted quite well.”

During his years as a Nittany Lion, he trained under Emmanuil Kaidanov, a five-time U.S. national team coach and Wes Glon, an Olympic and World Championship coach. Salmon placed in the top 12 as an individual in the NCAA championships and was one of two sabre fencers chosen for NCAA training at the German Olympic Center in 1987. He was an assistant coach for the Penn State fencing team during two national championship seasons before he brought his expertise to Ward Melville by starting a fencing club in 1995. In 1999, by popular demand, the club became a varsity team.

His athletes are consistently among the top on Long Island, and his team has won 13 league, county and Long Island titles. Salmon has won Suffolk County Coach of the Year honors seven times and USA Fencing Long Island High School Coach of the Year three times, but this is his first national achievement, one that many said they thought was long overdue.

“I wasn’t surprised because I know never to be surprised by what he does. His vast pool of knowledge and understanding of the sport and his nature of innovation is everything you need in a coach.”

— Danny Solomon

“I know he is one of the best coaches in the country, so it is a no-brainer to choose him,” rising Ward Melville senior Danny Solomon said. “I wasn’t surprised because I know never to be surprised by what he does. His vast pool of knowledge and understanding of the sport and his nature of innovation is everything you need in a coach.”

Solomon, who is a county champion, has also won four national championships, including at this year’s Junior Olympics, one international competition and many national and international medals. He is a two-time USA Fencing cadet team member and has gone to the cadet world championships twice.

He credits all of his success to his, at times, intimidating coach.

“I was terrified of him,” he joked. “Imagine being a seventh-grader seeing this huge, scary, bald guy flailing swords around. It would scare anyone.”

But the sabre competitor said things drastically changed over time.

“He is the reason I am the fencer I am today,” Solomon said. “He has definitely pushed me everyday. He can be both serious and friendly, but is always trying to get the best out of you.”

Soon-to-be University of Notre Dame freshman Jack Rohan agreed.

“He always tries his best to relate to his fencers to the point where he is not a coach but a friend,” he said. “He has been a huge contributor to my improvement in fencing and definitely deserves such an award.”

The sabre fencer, who joined the Patriots in eighth grade, was named All-Long Island last year after finishing with the best record in the county (35-3). He also won gold in sabre at the Jeff Wolfe Holiday Tournament.

His older sister Alexa played for Salmon, so Rohan was familiar with his longtime coach, and said he decided to give up focusing on his primary sport, lacrosse, to fence.

“On the Ward Melville team we commonly refer to him as ‘the magic’ since talented fencers may graduate, but he is always able to put together a championship-caliber team,” Jack Rohan said of the decorated coach.

Jeff Salmon with acclaimed protégé Danny Solomon after he won the Konin Cadet World Cup in Poland last year. File photo from Ward Melville school district

Melore, who stepped in as athletic director a couple of years ago, is proud to have Salmon as part of the program.

“He’s poised, professional, smart, passionate about the sport and really good with the kids,” he said. “He’s a great teacher of the sport. A lot is done in preparation, before and during matches, and he knows just when to give support and strategy to our athletes. It’s reassuring to have a veteran, and rapport is everything. We’re very proud he have this great program and tradition that Jeff built and I feel confident that our kids are getting taught the right way.”

Salmon said the joy he gets in seeing his students achieve their goals means more to him than any award or achievement.

“As the years went on, I found that I had a lot more satisfaction just changing the kids lives and building the confidence in them and having them grow as human beings,” he said. “Certainly the tool is fencing, but I find that that’s been the real joy in the journey.”

He reflected on similar ideas when he gave his acceptance speech, after receiving the award from his former coach Kaidanov.

“Not everyone is going to be an All-American, not everyone is going to be an Olympian, but what we do as high school coaches is take kids that have their hat over their head, their hands in their pockets, and we have them stand up straight and be confident in themselves,” he said. “This sport is hard — really, really hard. Parents really need to understand how hard this is mentally, physically. And that little success that they had makes them the men and women that they become. It gives them the confidence to go on in life — whether they achieve great things in fencing or just get that ‘E’ [lowest fencer rating] that they’ve been wanting so badly. It’s so important.”

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Ward Melville high school boys’ fencing coach Jeff Salmon with his saberist Solomon after the athlete won the Konin Cadet World Cup in Poland. Photo from Three Village school district

Ward Melville fencer Danny Solomon had to overcome a familiar foe to reach new heights — New Jersey’s Mitchell Saron.

The two faced off on the strip six times prior to the Konin Cadet World Cup in Poland Sept. 25, but Solomon’s record against his opponent was 0-6.

“For the past five or six tournaments we ran into each other — it’s been a major roadblock for me whenever I come up to him,” the saberist said. “I always cracked under pressure, but this time I knew if I stayed calm, that he’d crack this time.”

Danny Solomon reacts after beating Mitchell Saron. Photo from Konin Cadet World Cup
Danny Solomon reacts after beating Mitchell Saron. Photo from Konin Cadet World Cup

Solomon was riding a high that day prior to facing off with is archrival. He tied for first with another American from Colorado at the end of the qualifying round the day before, and cruised past Russian and Polish opponents 15-3, 15-9, 15-8 and 15-3 in the four direct elimination rounds prior to the bout against Saron.

“No one could really touch me,” Solomon said.

He beat Saron 15-13, and finished the day with one final bout, which he won for gold, earning him a No. 1 international ranking in cadet.

“I was ecstatic,” Solomon said of getting past Saron. “I’ve been going to international tournaments for the past three years now and each year I’ve been improving and seeing the older kids doing well. This year, with me being the oldest kid in the category, I wanted to make my mark, and I’ve been training hard for a long time now. It’s good to reap the benefits of my hard work with my victory.”

Solomon has been training with Jeff Salmon of Mission Fencing Center in Rocky Point for five years. Salmon is also his high school fencing coach.

“Danny is an extremely good competitor,” Salmon said. “He takes coaching and direction well. He’s eager to be the best he could be.”

Salmon has worked with plenty of high-ranking fencers, but said he’s never had a gold individual at the world cup level.

“He was extremely focused the whole tournament — from beginning to end,” the coach said of his pupil. “He had his goal in mind and he was doing everything he could to put himself in the best particular place possible, without exception.”

The tournament featured 167 fencers from 16 different countries. Although Solomon has been fencing since sixth grade, he is always seeking to improve. He said intense training went into preparing for the world cup bouts. Salmon said he and his student added several new techniques, and he was happy to see his fencer’s hard work come to fruition.

“You could see the pride,” Salmon said. “He couldn’t wipe the smile off his face, and he deserved it.”

The saberist was happy to have his coach at his side.

Danny Solomon and Mitchell Saron compete on the strip. Photo from Konin Cadet World Cup
Danny Solomon and Mitchell Saron compete on the strip. Photo from Konin Cadet World Cup

“He’s really helped me grow, not just as an athlete, but as a person,” he said. “Knowing that he’s experienced and had other people in these types of situations is really comforting.”

Solomon competed in the North American Cup in Detroit this past weekend, and did not have the same success, but finished ninth in cadet, which encompasses all fencers under 17, and ninth in Division I, which is an open category.

“I was hoping to finish close to the top in cadet, but Mitchell edged me out,” Solomon said. “But I’ll learn from it. In the open category, I had blood on my teeth from the day before, so when I got to the Top 16, I was one of the top-seeded people from the qualifying rounds.”

He ended up edging out Saron in Division I that next day.

Solomon is still ranked No. 1 in America, and is third internationally. He said he has enjoyed seeing his progress over the last few years, and is proud to see how the sport has changed him. But for now, he’s just looking forward to the rest of the season.

“When I started fencing I was a short, lanky kid, and now I’ve grown and I’m a tall, lanky kid,” he said, laughing. “But this sport has been amazing to me. It has given me some of my closest friends. It’s opened my horizons to other ways of thinking and showed me that no matter where they come from, no matter what language they speak or how old they are, there’s always a connection between fencers. We love the sport. Now, I’ll just keep training. But this has been a huge confidence booster. ”