Students, family, alumni and friends gathered recently at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey, for an unveiling of the newly upgraded Cetrulo Family Fencing Center. The new center was made possible by a donation from Lawrence G. Cetrulo, whose family has had a profound involvement with fencing and the City of Newark for a century.
This is the latest gift by Mr. Cetrulo, an attorney, who was a three-time All-American fencer at Harvard University and has been influential in the fencing community as spokesperson and philanthropist in the Northeast. Mr. Cetrulo first outfitted the St. Benedict’s fencing room in 2013 with a high-tech fencing strip. At the time, the fencing strip was the first one in the world with LED scoring lights reflected in locations under the surface, triggered in tandem with the scoring machine. But the legacy of the Cetrulo family’s involvement in fencing stretches back much, much further than that.
Larry’s grandfather was Gerardo I. Cetrulo, a former world fencing master and the patriarch of three generations of family who were highly accomplished fencers. It was Gerardo who first made the Cetrulo name synonymous with fencing in the early 1900s, a name that would become as much a fixture in fencing as the blades themselves.
Although Larry didn’t learn the sport from his grandfather, he had countless other family members, Olympians and All-Americans alike, who helped him hone his craft. Larry competed in the Junior World Championships as a senior at Newark Academy (1967) before moving on to Harvard, where he was named All-American (1969-1971) and later inducted into the Harvard Varsity Club’s Hall of Fame (1996).
One of Larry’s instructors in the craft was his uncle Dean, who had begun taking lessons from his father and older brother, Gerald, in 1924, at the age of five. Dean went on to an undefeated career as a state champion at Barringer High School in Newark, before continuing at Seton Hall University, where he finished his undefeated collegiate career with 96 consecutive victories. Dean Cetrulo went on to become a three-time National champion in both Sabre and Foil and helped the U.S. Olympic team win a Bronze medal in the 1948 Olympics in London. He was the last man to fence two weapons in the Olympics and was even the subject of a Hardy Boys mystery (“The Clue of the Broken Blade”). His fencing career had been interrupted during WWII, where he was a captain in the Air Corps and a decorated hero. Among Dean’s fencing students were his nephews, Dr. Stephen D. Cetrulo of Taos, New Mexico, an All-American fencer for Columbia University in 1963; Gerald I. Cetrulo III of Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, captain of the NYU Fencing Team in 1962; Dr. Curtis L. Cetrulo Sr. of Chilmark, Mass., captain of Columbia University’s NCAA Fencing Championship Team in 1965 and, of course, the aforementioned Larry Cetrulo, Esq. Dean Cetrulo passed away in 2010, at the age of 91 at his home in Bay Head, New Jersey.
The Cetrulo Family Fencing Center at St. Benedict’s is state-of-the-art. Only one other room of its type exists and that is located at Columbia University. Designed by Radical Fencing, founded by longtime national and international fencer Philippe Bennett, the room is stocked with the latest and finest equipment.
At the dedication and ribbon cutting, the fencing team members at St. Benedict’s were inspired by the words of the guests to regain the success that the school became well-known for. Fencing was first established at the prep school in 1985. During that embryotic period, it only sported a foil team. Blades were wooden sticks. Fencing strips were rubber mats, bound by removable tape. The fencing center needed to be set up for each practice since it also served as the school’s cafeteria. The team made it to third place in the district and ninth in the state. Success was amplified during the next four years, with the team winning three out of four state champion fencing titles. St. Benedict’s team continued to perform well and dominated the state tournament for much of the 1990s and most of the subsequent decade, but of late, it has struggled to get to the top step of the podium.
Recently, St. Benedict’s competed in the Santelli and Cetrulo Fencing Tournament, the largest high school fencing tournament in the world. It includes competitors from both private and public New Jersey schools. The Santelli for girls (named for Giorgio Santelli, an instructor to Larry’s uncle) and the Cetrulo for boys. Drew University in Madison, recently hosted the 40th edition of the tournament. St. Benedict’s did not win. They tied for third, but one must believe that the eyes of the Cetrulo men who have passed looked favorably down from above, knowing that the family’s great name will continue to be an inspiration to fencers for generations to come.