The Membership/Congress meetings are among the most ritualized events on the USFA calendar. Most years, the Membership meeting is pro forma, called to order and adjourned almost immediately into the Congress meeting, at which the main business is the selection of next year’s Hall of Fame inductees and the election of four at-large members of the board of directors. For BC staff who are Congress reps, the question is always whether we will be able to vote on the board members before we have to leave to start the day’s events, even with the later start to accommodate the meetings.
This year’s different—the Membership meeting is where the vote on the proposed new bylaws occurs. Kalle calls the meeting to order and starts off with a bang, announcing that Kurt Aichele’s contract as executive director has been terminated. There’s much surprise and even scattered applause. (I’m among the surprised, though only because I’d been assuming it wouldn’t happen until the September board meeting.)
We line up in the back of the room to have our eligibility to vote verified and get our ballots for the bylaws vote. I vote in favor of the new bylaws—they’re not perfect, but they should be a big improvement. I expect the smaller board will be a more informed board and hope therefore that it will be more functional.
While we’re milling around during the vote, a few people are handing out slips of paper with their proposed slates for the at-large board members. The slip I’m handed is . . . entertaining. Those of us who are Congress reps go out to the registration area in the lobby to sign in and have our status verified. We get the usual ballot for the at-large vote—a blank scrap of colored paper, blue this year.
We move into the Congress meeting. Andy Shaw does his talk about the Hall of Fame nominees; he’s always got a collection of interesting people I’d like to learn more about, but I almost always forget which I’ve voted for in the earlier eras by the time the results are announced. He collects the Hall of Fame ballots and we move on to the board election.
As people are nominated, their names are written on a flip chart at the front of the room. Once that’s done, the nominees each make a very short speech saying who they are and why we should vote for them. One nominee withdraws his name.
Sometime during this process we are told that the election tellers have completed the counting of the bylaws ballots, and the new bylaws have been approved. It’s also been decided to delay the fencing by another half hour to allow for the completion of the board election.
Someone makes the usual motion that we use cumulative voting, which is—as usual—approved. We may each allot our four votes any way we want—one vote for each of four nominees, all four votes for a single nominee, or split. I write my choices on my blue paper scrap, turn them in, and head on downstairs to the tournament, happy that this year I was able to vote before I had to leave.
Today I’m assigned table-side for two events: Div II WS, with 94 entries (only 83 check in to fence today), and the Sr MS Team, with 28 teams. I won’t be able to finish both, since the WS will still be in its DEs when the teams will be checking in, but we’re lucky—we’ve got an extra body today in the form of a trainee who’s got a couple of free days because the people she drove to Atlanta with still have events to fence. Normally, we don’t have trainees at SN at all—it’s too dangerous when we’re so busy—but she’s apparently worked at NACs before and is experienced.
Once upon a time, we used to have trainees at SN. (That’s how I started, in Austin in 2000, after working JOs in Sacramento as a computer operator.) But as SN has grown and budgets have gotten tighter, we’ve not had the staff to be able to train new people properly. We discovered through hard experience that we need extra staff specifically assigned to trainees—someone who’s running an event just doesn’t have the time to provide the proper explanations and oversight when we have schedules like the one this year.
It’s getting to be a serious problem for bout committee. We desperately need to be recruiting and developing new BC staff, but with even some of the NACs (January, for instance) growing into SN-style numbers and stress, it’s often only at the March NAC (Div II/III/Vet) that we can handle trainees properly. Even so, we require trainees to have some local and regional experience such as sectional or ROC events and familiarity with tournament software before taking them on. Walk-ons are simply not an option.
We’ve been intending for several years to develop BC training materials and to establish some sort of BC development and rating system similar to what the FOC and the armorers have established for their functions, but haven’t yet made much progress, mostly because we can’t create what we need at tournaments—we need offsite planning and meetings, which mean time and money, too. It’s got to happen soon, though—we not only need new BC staff, we need to develop more of the experienced staff we have into BC chairs, too. Right now, there are perhaps six of us nationally who are experienced at chairing national events, and some will not work SN. That’s far too small a group to rely on.
In any case, this particular trainee is a good one—when I’m needed down at the team table to get that started, I’m not worried leaving the Div 2 WS to her to finish. It’s probably just as well, too—I’m cranky and testy enough today that I’m not sure I’d have done her much good as a trainer, anyway.
Running team events is fun, though it always takes me a little while to put myself into team mode. When I first started working BC, we did teams completely by hand, which is one of the reasons teams used to have to check in the day before. We had a card for each team with spaces to note the individual results for each team member; we’d have to look up the individual results from the previous couple of days in order to calculate the seeding for the teams and create the tableau, a process that usually took hours for each team event. (We’d usually finish up the process while we waited for those slow rounds of 8 to finish the night before, though occasionally it took more work back in hotel rooms before sleep.) Then in the morning, we’d call the captains and for each matched pair, we’d flip a coin to decide which team was 1-2-3 and which 4-5-6. Then they’d choose their team order; we’d write in all the fencer names by hand, and then repeat the process for every pair in the first round. Running teams was a constant frantic stream of shuffling paper and writing.
We’ve made a number of changes to simplify and speed up the process. Instead of using classifications and SN results to calculate the seeding, we use classifications and points as of the change deadline for SN, so we don’t have to spend hours looking up fencer results. (This also allows a little more flexibility in the SN schedule, because the team events no longer have to occur after their related individual events.) Once we have the tableau, we arbitrarily assign the higher-seeded team as 1-2-3, so we don’t need to wait for matched pairs of captains to flip coins. And we’re using FencingTime to run the event, so once we have the team orders, we can print the scoresheets with all the team member names in all the right places.
Running team is no longer a constant frantic stream of paper shuffling—it’s an intermittent frantic stream of paper shuffling. We call the captains, hand out the sheets they mark their teammate order on, collect them and pair them up, print out the scoresheets, and send them out with their referees to their strips—assuming, of course, that we have both referees and strips to put them on, which, this being SN, is not always the case.
While my teams are getting started, check-in opens up for the Jr ME Team, which is 44 teams scheduled to start at 2:30, about an hour and a half after my saber teams. I slide myself and all my paper over to make more room for Meredith and all her epee paper, but we keep having to shoo away extra people ignoring our continual “captains only” announcements. Even with captains only, 44 in epee and 28 in saber makes for quite a mob around the team table. Every so often we do “Step AWAY from the table” commands, just to give ourselves breathing room.
Eventually, we get our referees and strips and get our matches out. Then every 45 minutes or so, as each round comes in, we get the teammate orders for the next pairings and print out those scoresheets. For my saber event, we do six rounds; Meredith’s larger tableau has seven rounds (which, being epee, take longer, too). Fortunately, team shrinks quickly—half the teams are eliminated in each round—so the crowd hovering over us shrinks quickly, too.
While the round of 8 is out fencing, one team captain comes to see why their next match hasn’t been called. “It should be out,” I say. I check my sheets and realize that I’ve not called them yet—because I’d written the strip they were to be sent to on the tableau, I’d assumed they’d already been sent out. We call the other captain and that last match of the round of 8 starts quite a bit later than the other three.
Once that’s taken care of, I realize I’ve missed the afternoon cookie drop. (The afternoon cookies are astonishingly effective at perking up dragging referees and BC staff in the late afternoons.) Arianna, who’s assigning the saber referees today, recommends the praline pecans from the cart out by the escalator. The nuts are perfect—a little bit of protein and a ton of sugar are just what I need to survive for another couple of hours.
Christie stops by to say goodbye—her internship supervisors were kind enough to adjust her schedule so she could spend a week here fencing and refereeing, but she’s flying back to Philly tonight. I give her a hug and tell her not to fall asleep before her flight boards.
Once the saber team finishes, I hang around for a little while longer. Tanya and Sheryl are being coerced into making an appearance at the Hall of Fame reception upstairs, where they are to be given service awards. I can act as chair if something comes up while they’re gone, so they’re stuck with going. Nothing comes up while they’re gone, though, and once they return, I go back to the hotel and crash, not even really noticing what time it is.
- Number of individual competitors: 542
- Number of teams: 72
- End time: 11:35 pm (but my saber teams finished two or three hours earlier)
- Hours worked today: around 12 (plus the Membership & Congress meetings before that)
- BC hours cumulative total: 93
Alarm’s set for 6:00 am.