Tournament Time

A repost—one of the first pieces I wrote for my old fencing blog:

National tournaments are weird events, if you’re a fencing official.

You show up when it’s time for you to show up—7:45 or 8:00 am, if you’re a referee; 7:00 or 7:30 am, if you’re a bout committee member; and usually even earlier if you’re an armorer.

Your day is a bipolar experience—stretches of waiting around for something to happen interspersed with mad frenzies to get the next event or the next round started or finished, sometimes with the operatic accompaniment of coaches’ tirades or lengthy asides of Talmudic discussions of the application of obscure rules.

Time expands and contracts in mysterious ways. At 10:00 am, you despair of your épée pools ever coming in, so you help someone else get their big foil event started. After about two hours, you discover it’s almost 10:15. Finally, you get your pools in and your DEs out and find those DEs moving along at a remarkable pace—after only a couple of hours, your almost-full table of 256 is nearly to the finals. The only problem is, the clock says it’s 7:45 pm, and you can’t remember whether you’ve had lunch or not.

This is Tournament Time, recognition of which is helpful for surviving NACs and essential for surviving Summer Nationals. Tournament Time means that once you get to the tournament, it doesn’t matter what time it is or what day, except for knowing which events are supposed to start when. The world is the tournament, and you never even notice the continual noise: The blade contact. The referees calling “Fence!” and “Halt!” The fencers yelling in triumph and frustration. The endless—and often garbled—PA announcments.

Until suddenly a single high-pitched electronic whine from one of the dozens of scoring boxes left on too loud penetrates your consciousness like a dental drill, and just when you think you’ll throw something at the next innocent who asks which strip her great-granddaughter’s Youth-10 women’s saber DE will be on the day after tomorrow, some merciful soul turns the machine off and brings you back from the brink of hysteria.

Is, was, and ever shall be. That’s Tournament Time.

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