Dick Oles left a legacy of self-reliance

Dick Oles left a legacy of self-reliance
(Courtesy of the Catholic Review)

Charles Greene II lay immersed in a pool of his sweat as the snow and rain collected around him on the Johns Hopkins track.

It was December 1982 and Greene had just completed his six-minute mile, which was required of anyone trying out for coach Dick Oles' Blue Jays fencing team. But he was exhausted and felt unable to walk to Oles' office, which led some other students trying out to ask Oles whether they should help him.


The coach's response?

Leave him until he was able to get to the fencing room on his own.

Though his legs wouldn't carry him, Greene was able to crawl to the room, where he again fell, prompting the students a second time to ask whether they should move him.

And again, Oles said no. He reasoned that Greene would move when he's ready or when he was tired of being stepped on.

"[That was one of my fondest memories], you know, 'He'll do it for himself. Don't help him,'" Greene, 48, said.

Memories of lessons about self-reliance and other life skills are common among former students of the legendary late coach, and they're among the reasons the Charm City Classic — which will be held Dec. 1 and 2 at UMBC's Retriever Athletic Center —has been renamed the Richard F. Oles Memorial Charm City Classic.

Oles died Jan. 27, 2011, after being hit by a snowplow. His car had broken down during a storm, and he decided to walk back home along Mountain Road in Pasadena since he was good physical shape.

The snowplow driver, Maximilian Hopkins Bode, 21, of Pasadena, was unable to see the coach and accidentally hit him, sending him 20 feet off the side of the road.

Oles died at Baltimore-Washington Medical Center from his injuries. Bode later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

"One of the major tenets of my uncle's life, and my family follows all the way through, is that you take responsibility for what you do … and so this action went so against that," Oles' nephew, Michael Oles, said. "One of the things that most people don't know … is Charles and I asked that boy to do his community service that he was sentenced to, here at the [fencing] club.

"It's what my uncle would have done. He would have said, 'OK, you did wrong, take responsibility for it — I'm going to show you the right way.'"

Dick Oles touched and mentored many fencers in the local area and in Maryland, but his influence didn't stop there.

"He goes beyond Baltimore and Maryland, I mean, Dick Oles is a bedrock for fencing in the United States, period," said Greene, head coach of Fencing Institute of America and interim head coach of Salle Palasz (pa-LOSH) & Tri-Weapon Fencing Club in Catonsville. "When you start looking at his tree and what he did, he was the one who was on the accreditation board for all of the fencing teachers in the United States: He certified you.

"He was the chairman of the Maryland Fencing Division, and the way in which he ran it — how you handled the tournaments, how you handled press releases, how you set things up, what were the standards, [and] how you ran it organization wise — all the other divisions followed it."


Oles also affected the coaching styles of not only his pupils, but also his rivals.

Bruce Milligan, who coached against Oles for seven years at Vassar, said one thing he used to tell his fencers was that his greatest ambition as a coach was to make them as good as Dick Oles' team.

"I was extremely impressed by the way he ran his college team, and when I later became a college fencing coach myself, I modeled a lot of what I did upon what I had seen him do at Hopkins," Milligan said. "I held Dick Oles in the highest regard. His team was probably the best nonscholarship fencing program in the country for many years."

Said Michael Oles: "He could take a nobody basically … and in four years create them into a championship fencing team that won 75 percent of their meets, won their championships 80 percent of the time [and] all from people who had never seen the sport four years prior."

Dick Oles became Blue Jays head coach in 1959 and held the position until he retired in 2003. From his years at Hopkins, Oles' tutelage produced "at least 70 percent of the fencing coaches in Baltimore," Michael Oles estimated.

In 1961, Dick Oles established the Tri-Weapon Boys' Club at the old Central YMCA to train teens in the sport. He then founded the Salle Palasz for adults who were interested in learning how to fence. His Tri-Weapon Boys' Club developed eight national youth champions.

When Dick Oles retired from Hopkins, his teams had a 643-214 record with 21 Middle Atlantic Collegiate Fencing Association championships and 12 finishes in the top 25 at the NCAA championships.

"His expectations were very high," said Michael Oles, manager and director of Salle Palasz. "He was able to measure people very well and know what he could get out of you. He never really pushed you beyond what he knew you could get to. He was really good at evaluating people early.

"If you did what he expected you to do, it was 'matter of course.' It wasn't anything to be excited about: That was what you were expected to do. … Now if you did way beyond what he expected you to do, then you would hear something."

For the people who knew Dick Oles, naming the tournament after him is ironic.

Oles never sought attention or recognition for the things he did, they said, he just simply did what he believed was right and fair.

"He is Baltimore fencing, he's been Baltimore fencing for 50 years," Michael Oles said. "Our uncle has always kind of shied away from recognition, and so we thought this was a really good thing for the [Maryland Division of USA Fencing] to do. It was a recognition that he really deserves and that he would never have asked for."