The Westminster Schools, senior
Harrison Parker has two unusual passions. He’s captivated by both fencing and bagpiping.
He’s studied both since the fifth grade, his mother said. He became interested in fencing through movies like “Star Wars” and fell for the sound of bagpipes after visiting Stone Mountain Park.
“Harrison has had such an interesting pathway,” said his mother, Barbara Long. “He took his own road.”
Harrison says fencing’s appeal is mental. “The strategy captivates me,” said Harrison, who ranked 32nd in the nation in the age-16 group at the Summer National Championships.
Hard work and training has also allowed him to receive the All-Academic First Team Award in 2011 for attaining high grades while participating in fencing at a national level.
Harrison has also won the Gold and Silver in the Georgia division state Junior Olympics qualifiers and competed in the Junior Olympics in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
“I’m a good fencer, better than okay, but not Olympian quality. I would still love to fence in college if varsity fencing or club fencing was offered,” he said.
Harrison’s grandmother was a Scottish immigrant whose ancestors include a pipe major, the leader of a band of pipers, Long said. Harrison first saw bagpipes during the Highland Games at Stone Mountain.
“He was overwhelmed,” Long said. “It’s a very charismatic instrument. He was mesmerized. Then he felt compelled to learn it. This became his instrument and his voice.”
Harrison learned to play bagpipes through the Atholl Highlanders Pipes and Drums Bagpipe Band. They began training him to play in 2005, Harrison’s mother says, and he continues with the group. In 2010, he received advanced training at the National Piping Center in Glasgow, Scotland, she said.
Last year, Harrison performed on the beaches of Normandy, France, as part of a group of 410 pipers who took part in a D-Day commemoration. Harrison was the only American in the group. “The experience was particularly meaningful because his great uncle had served under General Patton in WWII in operations that immediately followed the landing at Normandy,” Long wrote in an email.
He has also piped for the West Point Society, where Gen. William Webster, the commanding general of the United States Third Army, was present.
Although some people may view fencing and bagpiping simply as unusual pastimes, Harrison has learned life lessons out of the two.
“You meet all sorts of people, and it’s interesting how high pressure competition changes personalities,” says Harrison, “You get to see who is there to win, meet friends, and both. You see the good and bad people.
“Meeting people, especially at the national level, has taught me a lot of lessons about life,” he said.
Harrison plans to attend Harvard University in the fall. And he hopes to continue to compete in fencing at the college level and to continue to share bagpipe music.