The extra extracurriculars of McCallum

From fencing to fiddling to figuring out the next foothold, students share unique outside-of-school commitments


Diego Alfarache

Sophomore Gabi Alfarache (left) mid-bout. Having a good coach is important to success, and Alfrache has just that. Coming from Yale University to central Texas, Michael Kim became another father figure for Alfarache, “My ultimate role model is my coach [Kim]. He came from Korea to the United States when he was a teenager, and didn’t start fencing until college. He’s coached world champions, olympians, and even left his coaching position at Yale University to come coach in Texas. I really do think of him as my second father.”

Helen Martin and Elena Ulack

McCallum is known for its creative and unique people, and this sentiment applies to more than just the Fine Arts Academy and athletics. While the school offers lots of extracurriculars like football and band, some students choose to go down a different path, participating in hobbies that aren’t sponsored at McCallum, such as fencing, bouldering and fiddling.

There are only two sabre (specific modern fencing weapon) clubs in Austin, and sophomore Gabi Alfarache is a member of one of them. She’s been fencing for six years, starting the November after the 2016 Rio Olympics, the first place she saw the sport.

“The coolest part about fencing is definitely the travel,” Alfarache said. “I have the opportunity to see so many places and meet so many people.”

The furthest she’s traveled so far has been New York City, but Alfarache is currently trying to qualify for a bigger tournament, which would allow her to go on her first overseas trip with the sport.

“I’m hoping to qualify for a cadet [13- to 17-year-olds] World Cup in León, France.”

With 20 hours of practice a week, fencing is no joke, but for those really passionate, she highly recommends it.

“I would definitely recommend fencing to anybody who’s even remotely interested,” Alfarache said. “It truly is unlike anything else out there. It’s a really unique experience, and I think everyone should try it at least once in their life.”

Senior Max Hoff (far left) stands with friends. Hoff only started bouldering last year, but it’s already become a (hopefully) lifelong hobby, taking him to new and exciting places “I think I’ll do it forever,” he said, “For example, there’s this route, Yosemite, and there’s a group of boulders right next to each other and a few different problems I’d like to climb.” ABP’s proximity to Hoff (and many other Mac students) made it easy to form habits around the sport. “We probably go about four times a week.” Photo courtesy of Hoff.

Senior Max Hoff has been bouldering for a year, a hobby that was inspired during the pandemic after a family outing and is now something he plans to do forever.

“My favorite thing about it is the problem solving,” Hoff said. “You have to scale this big rock then figure out how to navigate it.”

A regular attendee of Austin Bouldering Project, Hoff has the opportunity to climb walls about as tall as the school portables.

“I go with my friends probably about four times a week.” Hoff said, “It’s just for fun but I have certain routes/locations that I’d like to climb at. For example, there’s this route in Yosemite with a few different boulder problems I’d like to try.”

The availability of day passes at ABP is just one bonus that comes with the skill-building that bouldering promotes. Hoff would recommend making a day out of it to anyone who’s interested.

Georgia Halverson, now a sophomore, stands with her violin at age 5. While jams are less frequent now, they’re still just as fun, bringing fiddlers and guitarists together to play. A solo fiddler will play improv with guitar accompaniment in front of peers, taking turns with others. This can be nerve-wracking for some, but it isn’t a deciding factor for Halverson, who’s been attending for years, “The worst part I would say would be the nerves that you have to overcome when playing.” Photo by Jessica Henderson.

When Georgia Halverson’s mom signed her up for violin lessons, Georgia was only 4 years old. Still, she knew it would become a lifelong hobby.

“Most people in the fiddle community started playing when they were my age or younger, and still play in their adult life, so I plan on following in their footsteps.”

Contrary to popular belief, Irish and other similar styles of fiddle are bigger here in Austin, while Texas-style isn’t. Halverson plays the latter, and while she doesn’t prefer one over the other, Texas-style lends itself to more opportunities for events. With contests and jams every couple of months, she travels often, going places like Greenville, Texas.

“The coolest part about fiddling is the community of people and the jams that you get to go to,” Halverson said.

Having an unusual hobby can make you stand out, and for Alfarache, Hoff and Halverson, that’s a good thing.

“[Fencing] gives people something to remember me by… when people I know hear about fencing, they think of me,” Alfarache said.

Halverson agreed, saying it also helps differentiate school and home life.

“I enjoy having a unique extracurricular that’s separate from what I do at school,” Halverson said.

Sophomore Gabi Alfarache stands waiting during a tournament. Like most competitive sports, fencing requires travel, and a lot of it. Alfarache has trekked far and wide, making it all the way to New York City. The fencing community in the Austin area is small, only two clubs training sabre, meaning travel is one of the few ways to expand her horizons, both fencing and friends-wise “The community of people is great, and it truly is unlike anything else out there.” Photo by Diego Alfarache.