Penn sophomore fencer Bryce Louie is ranked second in the country in his age and weapon group, and he is already winning competitions. But what his opponents on the fencing strip might not know is that they are dueling an elected official.
Since 2018, Louie has served as a board member of the Historic Cultural North Neighborhood Council, a body that represents 50,000 residents in the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Chinatown, El Pueblo, Solano Canyon, and Victor Heights.
When he first assumed the role at the age of 16, Louie was the youngest elected official in Los Angeles. He successfully campaigned for 167 votes in the board election.
“I come from a Chinese-Filipino background,” Louie said. “And I really wanted to take advantage of something that my grandparents did not have, which was a voice in government.”
Louie serves as the at-large youth representative on the council. One of his recent projects involved a proposed gondola route from Union Station in Los Angeles to Dodger Stadium. The ballpark is located on the edge of Chinatown.
“A bunch of our community members were very hesitant, just because of the whole idea of gentrification, like Chinatown isn’t going to be Chinatown anymore,” Louie said. “And so there was a lot of tension.
“So one thing I did was I invited large stakeholders to a Chinese dinner, because Chinese dinners are the finest way to hash out these things. And we discussed it, we came to the next meeting with the plan of how we’re going to explain where we’re going to place the gondola system — it wouldn’t be in the middle of Chinatown, it would be more on the outskirts, so these small businesses would not be affected as much. … And [now] Chinatown is planning on having a gondola system.”
The environmental review and approvals process for the gondola route are anticipated to be completed in 2022, after which construction could begin by 2025.
The Historic Cultural North Neighborhood Council’s meetings have been held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has allowed Louie to keep his position after moving to Penn’s campus. He juggles his role along with schoolwork and training as part of Penn’s foil squad.
“Bryce is a very hardworking person and very passionate for fencing,” said Penn coach Andy Ma. “He [does] two prep lessons per week, and the group classes as much as he can, and also strength conditioning. ... He also works on his own — footwork, blade work, and lifting.”
Louie’s freshman competition season was canceled due to the pandemic, so this year marks his first taste of the collegiate style of fencing.
“Many of the upperclassmen were extremely, extremely welcoming to the freshmen that were extremely nervous on campus, showed us the ropes of the collegiate style of tournaments and practices, and just how to be a Penn student,” Louie said. “[Fencing in college] is more emotional, because you’re representing something larger than yourself, which is the Quakers.”
In his first competition for Penn on Oct. 24 at the Temple Open, Louie took first place in a field of 73 foil fencers. On his way to the top spot on the podium, Louie took down five opponents, including Penn freshman Eric Yu in the semifinals.
In the final, Louie was pitted against another teammate, fellow sophomore Blake Broszus, who represented Canada at the Tokyo Olympics.
“[Broszus] is probably one of my best friends here,” Louie said. “We’re friends off the strip, but on the strip, it’s game on. There’s no holds barred. And I feel like that’s the way to sort of respect each other’s relationship — to go full-throttle against each other.”
Penn’s next competition will be the Ohio State Invitational on Dec. 5. But the Red and Blue will make the trip to Ohio without Louie, who will be in Leźno, Poland, representing the U.S. in the Junior World Cup.
Louie qualified as part of the foil team and as an individual fencer.
“He’s the No. 2-ranking junior in the nation,” Ma said. “For the World Cup, the level will be higher than the intercollegiate, so I think that will be good for him. If [he goes] to the higher-level competition … he’d become a better fencer to represent Penn.”
For Louie, the Junior World Cup will mark a return to the international stage after narrowly missing the cut for the U.S. Olympic team this past summer, ahead of the 2020 Olympics.
Family members inspired Louie to get into politics, and he also credits them for his success in fencing.
“My mom, my parents, my family … they are literally my backbone,” Louie said. “They constantly give me love and support, and without them I wouldn’t be in the position I am today.”