For years, we bout commitee people have known we need to get better at collecting and organizing the expert knowledge we’ve accumulated while running national tournaments. We need to know what we know in order to transmit that knowledge—it’s tough to train new staff when we can’t explain what we do. So I’ve been thinking about how to figure out what I know about strip management, and being a writer, the obvious course is to write about it and see what comes out.
In 2000. when I first started working national tournaments, there were no pipe-and-drape barriers around strips—no barriers at all between strips and spectators. Not to mention that there was often not even any carpet for referees to stand on—usually there were just strips and concrete. Strips were not grouped into pods but were laid uniformly from one end of the hall to the next, with breaks only for structural columns or access aisles sought by the local fire marshal. The halls we used then were smaller, too. A NAC might use 24 strips; Summer Nationals might have as many as 40. or even 44. (For the 2009–2010 season, we used 40–48 strips for NACs and 66 for Summer Nationals.)
One big problem with this layout was the lack of barriers. It wasn’t just the people constantly cutting across strips or walking in front of referees during bouts, but even well-behaved spectators tended to crowd in ever closer while watching fencing, making it difficult for referees to do their jobs.
Over the next few years, we experimented with pipe-and-drape barriers. Sometimes we had sections of 12 or 16 strips set off by barriers, with entries only in one or two places to limit access to fencers and officials only. We experimented with the placement of the openings—two at opposite corners weren’t quite enough for convenient fencer access, but two openings directly opposite each other created major traffic through pods.
Such large pods also made it difficult for coaches to even see their fencers, let alone give them advice during bouts. Spectators could often watch bouts only from the ends of the strips.
Eventually, someone thought of trying pods of four strips, with pipe-and-drape barriers along the long sides of the pod (two strip-lengths) and the ends without barriers at all. I’m not sure this arrangement would have worked if we’d started with it, but by this time, fencing crowds had learned not to wander through pods during bouts, so the open ends provided plenty of access for fencers and officials without causing extra traffic through the pods.
A couple of years ago, when the budget crunch hit, we even went to barriers of pipe only—no drape. Christy Simmons told me at the time that eliminating the drape saved USA Fencing several thousand dollars per tournament. And it not only made it easier to see the strips from the bout committee stage, but tended to reduce the litter and random abandoned gear left in the pods, too.
Pods of four worked well for people-handling. But they turned out to be a good choice for managing strip assignments, too.
More on that later, though.
Next time: numbering strips.