In anticipation for the Columbia University Athletics Hall of Fame this October, GoColumbiaLions.com is taking a look at the teams, student-athletes, coaches and staff members that are set to be inducted. Our next installment features the one of the best fencing teams in program history and a standout epeeist.
1954 Men's Fencing
Head coach Irv DeKoff had high expectations heading into the 1953-54 campaign. And why wouldn’t he? The Lions brought back 11 seniors from a squad that finished the previous year 10-2 in dual meets, so there was plenty of reason for optimism.
Leading the charge were returning All-Americans Stephen Sobel (sabre) and Irwin Bernstein (epee). Columbia also boasted strong depth in the sabre in Ted Reuter, Henry Weinstein, future Columbia Athletics Hall of Famer, Barry Pariser, and Harvey Turner.
The Lions opened the season with a flourish, topping their first three opponents by a combined score of 63-18, including a 21-6 triumph over Ancient Eight rival Penn. Columbia continued to rattle off convincing victories and had its sights set on the program’s first undefeated season.
Columbia’s toughest regular season test came against Cornell, but the Lions were able to hold off the Big Red, 14-13. They took their perfect 11-0 record into the Intercollegiate Fencing Association Championships after an 18-9 victory over Navy to wrap up dual-meet season.
At IFA’s, Columbia rolled to the three-weapon championship, the first for the program since 1926, winning the event by 12 points. Sobel, Pariser and Reueter swept the medal stand in sabre as the Lions won each of the individual weapon portions of the competition.
The Lions finished day one of NCAA’s tied for first with Cornell. However, they had a subpar performance to their standards, the following day, and DeKoff was unsure of the results until the very end of the meet.
“Only at the end, when I asked Hugo Castello, NYU’s coach, how many points he had did I find out where we were,” DeKoff wrote in the April 1954 edition of Lions on Lions. “He said 61. I replied that I had that too, so we concluded we tied for the title.”
James Margolis '58CC
For someone who had never picked up a fencing weapon until he enrolled at Columbia, James Margolis carved out an illustrious career and went down as one of the finest epeeists the Lions have ever seen.
Margolis had an opportunity to take a management position at a local supermarket, but opted to come to Columbia instead – which worked out wonderfully for the fencing program.
In 1957, his second year on the squad, Margolis led Columbia to the first Ivy League team championship and was the individual winner in epee. He went on to win the IFA crown and claimed the top spot at the NCAA Championships to cap his stellar campaign.
Margolis capped his career with first team All-Ivy League honors in 1958 with a 12-2 mark and another team conference title. However, an injury robbed him of a chance to repeat as national champion.
Upon graduation, he was a member of the 1960 United States Olympic Team in Rome and competed in the 1960 and 1963 Pan American Games.
Margolis entered the life insurance business for 40 years and also served as manager at the Brookline Emergency Food Pantry, a food shelter that receives 85 to 90 visits a week from individuals, families and seniors in need.