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Fencing plays big role for Three Rivers Middle College senior

Norwich — Joe Corbett's life mantra is to just "focus on the next touch," something he learned from fencing.

But the Niantic resident might not have encountered the sport if it weren't for a rule at East Lyme High School.

"They don't allow homeschoolers to compete in high school [sports], so I kind of had to be independent and do my own thing because I had done soccer for a long time," he said. His mom suggested looking for something through East Lyme's recreation programs, and he started fencing as a freshman in high school.

A few of his other friends who were homeschooled attended Three Rivers Middle College in Norwich, and he decided to enroll for his junior and senior years to get a head start on the college experience. He had taken a year off from fencing, but since TRMC is a two-year school and doesn't have enough students for any sports teams, he was delighted to find out he could fence for East Lyme.

Corbett served as the captain of the men's saber team and coach of the saber program this year after starting the discipline at the end of last year to replace the graduating captain. He said saber at the high school level is relatively new in eastern Connecticut, but he likes the faster pace and adrenaline rush as compared to foil and epee.

"He progressed with phenomenal speed," said Keith Knight, the East Lyme High School fencing coach. He also coached Corbett through the town recreation program, and he said his skill improved by about two years' worth of training in six months.

Knight, who also leads the Thames River Fencing Club, where Corbett still practices, said Corbett started with foil but was a natural fit for saber because of his speed. Since CIAC rules prevent coaches from working with students during the offseason, he sent him to Sword in the Scroll Fencing Academy in Willimantic to get more practice.

"It's been a pleasure working with him," Knight said.

He highlighted Corbett's leadership skills on top of his fencing prowess and said he would make a great coach.

In addition to leading the fencing team, Corbett has served as an English tutor and vice president of TRMC's National Honor Society. He came to the school to pursue the political science program, but a deeper look in to his purpose led him to start taking classes in criminal justice this year.

"One of the things that I came to conclusion to is that I want to give back," he said, noting the opportunities he has had because his parents adopted him from South Korea as a baby. "One of the things that I want to do with a criminal justice major is that I can get involved in law, I can get involved with people, and so that way I can give back to the community."

While Corbett won't be graduating with an associate's degree from Three Rivers Community College, he'll be leaving with 50 college credits under his belt. He'll attend Charleston Southern University in the fall to pursue a criminal justice degree and join the Air Force ROTC program.

He said he chose the Air Force because of his long-time dream of flying an airplane, as he attended air shows as a kid with his father and grandfather. After seeing so many families in the area come and go with the Navy, he also wanted to pursue a branch that would give him more time to spend with his future family.

Lately he's been running circuits through his neighborhood to prepare for the physical fitness test requirement for the ROTC, and it echoes a lot of the lesson's he's learned from TRMC about being a go-getter.

"One of the things that my school pushes is grit. You've got to be able to push yourself the extra mile, the whole nine yards," he said.


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