Former Terp, Olympic Team Member to Become UMD’s First Fencing Honoree
By Sara Gavin
Howard Labow (right) competes in the 1974 NCAA Fencing Championship. He was a two-time All-American, a two-time ACC champion and runner-up NCAA champion.
When Howard Labow ’77 got cut from the basketball team during his freshman year in high school, he was devastated. That is, until his father introduced him to a sport he’d never considered: fencing.
“To me, it seemed like a physical chess game—defensive and offensive strategies are really important—and that was exciting to me,” Labow said.
He didn’t realize it at the time, but fencing would turn out to be Labow’s ticket not only to college, but to travel the world and compete in the highest levels, including becoming a member of an Olympic team.
On Nov. 2, Labow and eight other alumni will be inducted into the Class of 2018 University of Maryland Athletics Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center.
“It is a surprise and a huge honor,” Labow said.
Although fencing is a relatively small collegiate sport now, it was much more prevalent in the ’70s, when a number of universities tried to recruit Labow from his suburban Chicago high school. He jumped at the chance to fence and study at UMD.
“I loved and devoured every moment I was at Maryland,” said Labow, who majored in government and politics. “I ate it up. I loved the campus, the school, my major, my professors.”
While at UMD, Labow became a two-time All-American, a two-time ACC champion and runner-up NCAA champion and received all-conference honors in each of the four years he competed for the Terps.
In 1977, Labow traveled to Israel for an international fencing tournament, where he won a silver medal, and an invitation to join the Israeli national team. The son of Zionist parents who fostered a deep love and respect for Israel in their children, Labow moved to the country and competed with the Israeli national team for two years. It was slated to participate in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow but, like the United States, Israel boycotted the games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
“Obviously, that was disappointing,” Labow said. “We really thought that (1980) team had a shot to win Israel’s first Olympic medal.”
Nonetheless, Labow’s time in Israel proved to be transformative. He met his wife Maia, a refugee from Romania, and the two moved back to the Chicago area in 1980. That’s when Labow started National Enrollment Services, which sells voluntary insurance benefits on a payroll deduction basis. He says the same skills that served him well in fencing—strategy, endurance and competitiveness—were important in launching his own business, and credits the University of Maryland with giving him the confidence to take that leap.
“What I learned from my professors helped groom the way I wrote and conversed with clients and businesspeople and molded me into the executive I would become,” Labow said. “My experiences at Maryland added this pizzazz and oomph to make my business grow and thrive.”
Nearly 40 years later, Labow in September was named Employee Benefit Adviser Magazine’s “Voluntary Benefits Advisor of the Year.”
Today, Labow still lives outside of Chicago but travels to Israel several times a year to visit one of his daughters and three grandchildren. He also still fences regularly. In 2000, Labow finally got his shot at the Olympics, as an assistant coach for the Israeli team at the games in Sydney, Australia.
He plans to return to campus next month to attend the Hall of Fame ceremony.
“My ties to Maryland are strong and always will be,” he said.
This year’s other Hall of Fame inductees are Adrian Branch (basketball, 1982–85), Eden Kroeger Burks (volleyball, 1994–97), Gillian Cote Cook (gymnastics, 1999–2002), Jason Garey (soccer, 2002–05), LaMont Jordan (football, 1997–2000), Karen Trudel Martellucci (lacrosse and field hockey, 1983–85), Cathy Nelson Reese (lacrosse, 1995–98, coach since 2007), and Joe Walter (lacrosse, 2003–06).
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