There are five official age groups for kids and juniors: Youth-10, Youth-12, Youth-14, Cadet (or Under-16) and Junior (or Under-19). Some local tournaments also include a Youth-8 age group. Although this age group does not officially exist at the regional or national level, it fits in with the pattern of the other Youth age groups.
There are four categories for Veterans: Combined (40+), 50-59, 60-69, and 70+. For details on these age groups, consult the USFA Athlete’s Handbook.
Any competition which does not have any specific age restriction is considered a Senior tournament. This includes competitions marked Open, Division II, Division III, E & Under, etc.
There are two main principles when determining which categories a fencer is eligible for:
- The USFA does not care when a fencer’s birthday falls within the year. Only the birth year matters. As far as the USFA is concerned, a fencer born on January 1st, 2001 is the same age as a fencer born on December 31st, 2001.
- Each competition category has its competitive season. For most categories, the season starts in August and runs through the following July. For the duration of that season, a fencer’s eligibility for a category does not change. So if a fencer is eligible for Youth-12 and Youth-14 in September, they’ll still be eligible for Youth-12 and Youth-14 through Summer Nationals in July, even if they turn 13 in January. After Summer Nationals, all of the age groups (except Cadet and Junior) become “a year younger”.
Birth years for youth events
Youth tournaments, like Senior tournaments, have a season that starts in August and ends the following July.
The Youth categories each have a block of four birth years which are eligible. The easiest way to figure them out is to subtract the tournament category’s “age number” from the year that the current season starts. The result is the oldest eligible birth year. For example, consider Youth-12 competitions in the 2021-2022 season. 2021 minus 12 is 2009, so fencers born in 2009 are the oldest ones eligible. The four-year range means that fencers born in 2009, 2010, 2011, or 2012 can fence Youth-12 in the 2021-2022 season.
Because the age groups are two years apart and four years long, a youth fencer can always fence their own age group plus the next higher category, but cannot fence the next category after that. For the 2021-2022 season, a fencer born in 2011 could fence Youth-10 and Youth-12, but not Youth-14. A fencer born in 2010 could fence Youth-12 and Youth-14, but not Cadet.
Eligibility for Senior events
Any competition that does not have a specific age restriction (Open, Division II, Division III, E & Under, etc.) is considered a Senior tournament. The USFA’s current policies state that a fencer may only fence in such an event if they turn 13 before the January 1st in the middle of the current season. In other words, the youngest birth year eligible for Senior competitions is the year the season started, minus 13. So, for the entire 2021-2022 competitive season, fencers born in 2008 (2021 minus 13) or earlier can fence Senior tournaments.
For a club-restricted tournament such as the RCFC In-House events, this restriction does not apply.
Youth-12 is the boundary
The way that all this works out, a fencer who is young enough for Youth-12 is too young for anything else except possibly Youth-14 for most of the season. A fencer in their last year of Youth-12 can fence Under-16 and Under-19 after JO’s. Once a fencer ages out of Youth-12, they become old enough for anything else except Veterans.
Exception for national points
If a fencer is too young for a category based on the birth year ranges, they can fence if they have national points in the next younger category. National points can be earned at Super Youth Circuits (SYCs), North American Cups (NACs), Junior Olympic Championships, and Summer Nationals.
For example, a Youth-10 fencer can fence Youth-12 (one age group up) but cannot fence Youth-14. However, if they can earn national points fencing Youth-12, they become eligible for Youth-14. If they can earn Youth-14 national points, they become eligible for Cadet. Fencers with Cadet points become eligible for Junior, and fencers with Junior points become eligible for Senior tournaments. This progression is fairly rare for youth fencers to accomplish, but it is possible.
Youth fencers in general can fence their own age group plus the next higher one. Once they are too old for Youth-12, they’re old enough for everything else. Fencers young enough for Youth-12 cannot fence any tournament which does not have a specific age restriction unless they have Junior national points.
While these rules generally remain constant, USA Fencing does occasionally make policy changes. Complete details can always be found in the Athlete’s Handbook, which can be downloaded from the Event Resources section of the USA Fencing website, www.usafencing.org. In case of any discrepancy between the current Athlete’s Handbook and this article, the Athlete’s Handbook is right.