As an ornithological professional, Professor Brian Palestis says, “Seahawks are not real birds.”
But when it comes to the new Seahawk fencing team, he’s all in.
Palestis is a professor of biological sciences at Wagner. His specialties are animal behavior, ecology, and evolutionary biology; he focuses on birds and has published many studies about terns. His research also touches on sports science.
Palestis is also an expert in the sport of fencing. Last year, when Wagner added women’s fencing to its roster of NCAA athletic teams, he started coaching the team as a volunteer. His specialty is the saber. (Fencing includes three events: saber, foil, and epee, each of which has its own set of rules and techniques.)
Palestis began fencing during his freshman year at Pompton Lakes High School in New Jersey. He was an all-around athlete, competing in several sports and playing football through his junior year of high school.
During his senior year, he increased his focus on saber and earned a spot on Princeton’s fencing team. He was a four-year starter and two-time Honorable Mention All-American for a team that won Ivy League titles in 1994 and 1995 and placed fourth at the 1994 NCAA championship. (His brother, Paul Palestis, a member of New York University’s fencing team, won the 1995 NCAA national individual championship in saber.)
For years, Palestis has coached and refereed for New Jersey private fencing clubs. Now, he works three hours a week with the Wagner fencers on their saber skills.
Last year, Palestis and Head Coach Fatima Largaespada coached a few student-athletes who came to fencing from other sports. This year, they have a full team that includes three experienced freshman recruits. They also gained another assistant coach, Olivia Wynn, a Temple University fencing alumna.
The season started in November, and the team has won two meets so far, defeating Queens College at the Vassar Invitational and Yeshiva University at the LIU Post Invitational.
It seems the ornithologist-coach took to the Seahawks like a duck to water.