BC Diary: Day 6

5:30 am: Terrific. I wake up just before my alarm would have gone off had I been working as chair today. I refill my water bottle (still working on the hydration—swollen ankles are better but not entirely shrunk back to normal yet) and get back in bed.

Eventually Christie gets up—she has an 8:00 report time this morning. I’m vaguely aware when she leaves, but am soon dead to the world again.

11:00: Awake again. This is much better—now I can wallow in not needing to be anywhere anywhen. I grab my iPad and spend the next hour paying bills and reading email. My plan is to do a little yoga, grab some lunch somewhere, and then work on my diary entries for the first five days—if I can catch up on those today, I should be able to post the rest at the end of each day, now that I am to be merely a minion.

While I’m in the shower (one of my major venues for figuring out the structure of whatever writing project I’m in the midst of), I realize that I can’t remember any details at all of the past five days. That’s going to make writing all about them a little tricky.

What to do? I seriously want to write about BC work—I’ve been intending to do it for at least five years, and it really needs doing. Not enough people understand the logistics of our tournaments, especially SN, and with the schedule and numbers this year finally making obvious what we’ve been warning about for years, this is definitely the time to finally make it happen.

I’ll walk over to the CNN building and grab some fast food different from what’s been available in the venue, and then find a corner somewhere in B5 to sit down and write. My theory is that with fencing sights and sounds around me, I’ll be able to reconstruct the past few days well enough to write my diary entries.

It’s muggy out, of course, but the walk probably does my ankles some good. I get a burrito bowl from a place called “Moe’s Southwest Grill”—definitely better than the venue food but not remotely Southwest or Mexican or Tex-Mex.  Oh, well.

In the venue, I look for a place to camp out near the BC stage, so I can double-check numbers and times (and which days were which), but out of their way. The referee corral is perfect—most of the referees are out working and there is plenty of room to put my feet up, too. All the BC folk and referees I say hi to say, “What are you doing here? I thought this was your day off.”

Sitting here isn’t helping my memory much. I’m not particularly worried that I’m not able to do an hour-by-hour reconstruction of the past few days. What I want is to describe what we do on the BC and why we do it, and give an impression of what it feels like doing it all, especially as the days get larger and our bodies and brains wear out. My goal is to be descriptive but not whiny.

Gradually, I settle into the work. Once I start writing, things start coming back, which is the way it always works. It goes much more slowly than I expect—far more slowly than I usually write—but as tired as I am, that’s not too surprising.

At one point, Christie comes and sits down next to me. “I’ve just learned more in the last 20 minutes than I have in the last three years reffing,” she says. It seems that at the end of the pool she’d been working, Matt Cox and Mike d’Asaro (both solid referees but working as coaches this week) took her to an empty strip and demonstrated aspects of the middle game that she’s been trying to learn to see better for the past few years. She’s known she needs to make her calls tighter but hasn’t quite been able to see the actions well enough to do so. Now Matt and Junior have shown her what to look for—she’s not sure she’ll be able to integrate all this new information into her calls immediately, but she’s excited to have the specifics she’s needed to make herself a better referee.

(When I chat with Matt later, he tells me they’ve been trying this with several referees this week. Some, like Christie, have been happy to listen and try to learn; others have blown them off completely, taking the view that coaches (even coaches who are also highly rated and respected referees) have nothing to teach them. Idiots.)

By early evening, I’ve only managed to complete entries for setup day and the first day of competition. I realize that the best I’ll be able to do here in Atlanta is make a few notes and gather the stats on entry numbers and finish times. When I try to upload the two posts to my blog, I realize I’ve got the same problem Tanya’s having with uploading the results: I’m barely able to manage to hit the few buttons required.

Tanya asks if I would represent the BC at the informational meeting this evening about the officials’ pay which is in arrears, since everyone else will still be working when it happens. I’m already planning to go, since I’m currently owed a four-figure sum, not including this SN, so that works.

When I get upstairs to the meeting, I’m surprised to see that I’m only the second person there, aside from Greg Dilworth and Brian Lawrence, the new finance director (he’s been on the job for seven weeks). The first person there is Brian, who’s representing the armorers, the rest of whom are still working this evening. Greg explains what they’ve already told Brian, that the amount currently owed to offiicals, up to but not including this SN, is around $267,000, and that they are committing to paying all of that to us by the end of the first quarter of the new fiscal year, by October 31. But there’s bad news to go along with this: because they don’t know yet what the needs for Olympic prep in this upcoming third year of the quad will be, they cannot commit to paying any of the officials for the 2010-2011 season before the same time next year, the August–October quarter.

That’s pretty stunning. Any official who works during the coming season cannot expect to see their money for up to a year, depending on which events they work.

I question the distinction that has been made between honoraria and out-of-pocket expenses (“out-of-pocket expenses” are currently being paid before honoraria). Those out-of-pocket expenses are things like ground transportation, baggage fees, and airfare reimbursement when officials book their own flights. (Most of us don’t do that anymore because reimbursement takes so long.) But much of what we get as honoraria we’ve already spent on dinners and other living expenses that the “out-of-pocket expense” reimbursements don’t cover, so it feels to us just as out-of-pocket as the rest.

The other concern I have is that we’ve not been able to rely on the information the office has been giving us. Most recently, we were told that the next checks, to cover out-of-pocket expenses and per diems for the San Jose NAC and honoraria for whatever the next event due was, would be mailed out in mid- to late May. What actually came was only the out-of-pocket for San Jose (for me, less than a third of what had been announced), and that not until June 30, three days before I left for Atlanta.

This sort of thing has happened repeatedly over the past two years, and since most of us try to use the payments from one tournament to fund our expenses for the next one we work, this makes it difficult to plan our availability without major disruptions to our own personal budgets. At first, we could live with floating the money over two events, instead of just one, but three? four? a whole season? That’s a lot harder to manage.

But—and it’s a big one—most of us are willing to live with that, as long as we can rely on what we’re being told. If we have to make a long-range cash-flow plan to figure out our availability for the next season, we can do that. But I’m willing to bet that not many of us will even try until we see whether that money promised by the end of October actually shows up. I’m glad I’m not the one who has to recruit staff for the October NAC.

Greg pledges repeatedly that the October money will be coming as promised, and says that the reason they’re saying next season’s money won’t be coming until the same time next year is exactly that they don’t want to keep making promises that won’t be kept.

I ask Greg if what I’ve heard is true, that the national office is over its budget this year by more than what is owed to officials. He sighs and says that no, it looks like it’s not that bad. He and Brian (the finance guy, not the armorer) are still gathering information and getting it figured out, but it looks more like the office may be over budget by only $110,000–115,000. That’s something, I guess—it probably would have been torches and pitchforks if the overage had turned out to be more than the officials’ arrears.

About the time Greg finishes his summary, a referee arrives to join us. Greg rehashes everything for him, and then one more referee shows up. Both express the same concerns about reliable information that Brian and I did—we are all (reluctantly) willing to make do with late payments if the information we are given can be relied upon.

That’s it. Nobody else shows up, to everyone’s surprise. We’d all been expecting a large outraged mob. Maybe everyone’s just too tired.

The conversation veers aways from the finances into other problems, like the tournament schedule, how brutal SN is to work, and how it’s not just the money that’s causing staff attrition. As happens eventually in every conversation among tournament officials, we start talking about ideas for improving tournaments. Brian, who works for a texting company, starts in on his idea for texting strip assignments and such to fencers who sign up for such a service. I tell him to talk to Joe (who created the check-in scanning we have now) and Sheryl at the BC—they’re already working on software and equipment requirements for what we’ll need to replace the timeworn XSeed and add functional improvements.

We talk about RailStation a bit. Apparently, they’ve done in two weeks what it’s taken HangAStar a year and a half to not do, so there’s cause for some cautious optimism there.

As always, we realize that we have to keep talking to each other about all the great ideas we have for making improvements. What we need, though, that we haven’t had for years, is for the board or the executive director to prioritize all the good ideas into some sort of viable plan and develop the resources to make them happen. Until then, it’s all just talk and speculation and what-ifs and we-coulds and we-shoulds.

I wander back downstairs and summarize the meeting for Tanya and a few others. We are, I decide, “skeptically optimistic.”

We talk about the Membership/Congress meeting in the morning, and those who are not Congress reps laugh at those of us who are, because we won’t get that extra hour’s sleep.

I take the shuttle back to the hotel around 9:00, I think. I dither for longer than I should about whether I want breakfast or an extra half hour asleep in the morning, but finally decide I’ll need the nutrients to survive the meeting and set my alarm accordingly.

No trouble at all falling asleep.

Stats:

  • Number of individual competitors: 703
  • Number of teams: 59
  • End time: 11:00 pm
  • Hours worked today: 0, but lunatic that I am, I was in the venue for most of the afternoon and well into the evening
  • BC hours cumulative total: 81

Alarm’s set for 6:00 am.

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