WHEELING - Knights in shining armor, archers firing in tournaments, blade-wielding dancers and grand feasts attended by finely-dressed lords and ladies are no fantasy for members of the Society for Creative Anachronism.
For them, the Middle Ages is part of everyday life and forms the basis of a tight-knit community of living historians who study and recreate the action and culture of 410-1603 A.D.
"We number 55,000 worldwide, approximately," Russ Schultz of Warwood said. "We have everybody from three years old into their 70s."
Top, Russ Schutlz, left, and J.L. Lash cross swords as they practice swordplay at a gathering of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Above, Julie Schultz balances blades at a Society for Creative Anachronism event. Left, Mark Sebastian, left, and Sherri Lengthorn take aim as a they practice archery at an event.
Russ and Julie Schults started the local SCA group, Ballachlagan, in 2008 after the previous one went defunct in 2000.
Starting initially by themselves, Russ Schultz said their membership is now 57 strong and consists of residents all over the Northern Panhandle.
Among the old skills studied by members of the SCA, Schultz said the local group practices the art of fencing, archery, thrown weapons and Middle Eastern dance. He said members also study and make period clothing and food, to be used on special occasions when groups from all over the Pittsburgh area get together to celebrate the Middle Ages together.
Those gatherings, usually themed around some historical event or cultural aspect of the Middle Ages,, feature competitions between different local groups and a large period-accurate meal. Schultz said the upcoming event will be themed after the Battle of Agincourt, centerpiece of Shakespeare's historical epic "Henry V", during which British King Henry V defeated the army of French King Charles VI.
While some members of the SCA are men and young adults interested in the fighting aspects of it, group leader Julie Schultz said some of the most active participants are teachers or students interested in learning historical lessons firsthand and teaching them to others.
At 15 years old, Jessica Schultz has already been trained in some of the basic ways of medieval combat though the SCA carefully regulates activities to be age-appropriate. While youngsters can learn how to use a few basic tools such as bows and knives for throwing, they are not allowed to wield a sword until they reach adulthood.
Weekly practices take place in Warwood and Wellsburg, Russ Schultz said. Weekend events are often held at Tomlinson Run Park in New Cumberland.
Members of the SCA interested in leadership do not have to play any game of thrones, Schultz said, since all officers are elected democratically.
"We do have officers who are elected to serve two year terms," Schultz said.
Area residents looking for their own trial at medieval combat are welcome, Julie Schultz said. Those interested in learning more can contact Julie Schultz, club president, at firstname.lastname@example.org.