BC Diary: NAC A, Day 4

Last day. Same number of events as yesterday but about 100 fewer fencers.

The largest event today is the Div I MS. It was originally planned for 12 strips for both pools and DEs, but the assigners decide we should send out all 18 pools at the same time, and then put them on only 8 strips for the DEs. Doesn’t change the length of the event much, but reduces the number of referees needed later in the day, always good on the last day when many will be leaving for home before the fencing is done.

We’ve also got 11 pools of Div II ME, 3 pools of Vet50 WF, and 1 pool each in Vet 60 and Vet 70 WF, so there’s plenty of room for everything to start. It’s a pretty easy schedule to assign strips for, but as the day progresses I’ll need to move the fencing in toward the BC stage so I can release strips to the armorers for teardown.

At some point, I hear that sabre coaches are trying to persuade the assigners to use the replay systems for the 32 on for the MS. With as few replay systems as we have, that’s not going to happen today, but maybe someday.

The officials’ lunch today is Domino’s Pizza. Sigh.

I’m always mildly frustrated on the last day. I’ve got my plan for releasing strips all figured out, but the fencing needs to catch up to the plan before I can do anything about it. Once the Div II WS—the largest of the afternoon events—is into DEs, though, we’re on the downhill slope, so the armorers can have pods J and K.

Within another couple of hours, we’re into the 8 for all of the last four events, so fencing is down to just pods D through G, and the armorers are taking down and packing up the scoring machines on all the rest. Looks like they’ll get that pretty well done by the time the hired crew shows up to pack the strips. Now it’s just a race to see which way the gold medal bouts will queue up to use the finals strip.

While those 8s are fencing out, we start to collect our stuff for packing. Somebody retrieves our pushpins from the bulletin boards and others collect abandoned pencils and clipboards from the empty scoring tables. (With the numbering experiment, we don’t need to track down laminated strip numbers this time.)

We end up beating the projected finish time by a few minutes.

Once the fencing’s finished, we get serious about packing up. We’ve reduced the gear we haul around substantially over the last season or two, and labeled all our bins so we pack everything into the same containers they came from. The computers go into their nice padded crate, and the printers into their boxes, and we line up all our bins and boxes and crates ready for our big black shipping crate.

When I first started working BC, we stacked all our boxes on a pallet and wrapped it all up in shrinkwrap. Now it’s a 3-dimensional jigsaw puzzle to place all the assorted crates and bins into the big crate so that the lid will fit. This time we even have a foot or so of room left on the top .

We’re done and out by shortly after 7:00 pm. The armorers will be there for a while longer, but it doesn’t look like it will be a long evening for them, either.

Monday stats:
10 events
387 competitors
End of competition: approximately 6:00 pm

Alarm’s set for 5:45 am, so I won’t miss my shuttle to the airport.

BC Diary: NAC A, Day 3

Today’s schedule is much like yesterday’s, with two large events starting in the morning, and one fairly large and a bunch of smaller ones coming in around midday. Like yesterday’s ME, today’s Div I WE will have repechage, but it’s only half the size, so it shouldn’t last quite so long—only 9 hours or so, instead of the nearly 12 the ME took yesterday. The larger afternoon event is Div II MS, too, so that will go relatively fast, too.

Lunch is definitely better today—chicken alfredo, pasta with meatballs, veggie alfredo. Good to have the protein.

Nothing much out of the ordinary; fencing just plugs along until we’re done. It’s technically a late night, because we finish after 7:00 pm, but nobody much bothers with eating here, because we’re done early enough to make it to a restaurant for dinner. It’s nice to be awake enough to be able to finish a beer.

Sunday stats:

10 events
493 competitors
End of competition: 8:ooish

Alarm’s set for 6:00 am.

BC Diary: NAC A, Day 2

For strip management, we’ve got an easy start this morning: Div I Women’s Saber gets two pods to double-flight their 13 pools on, and Div I Men’s Epee gets everything else-—including the finals strip—for their 37 pools.

We’ve had a bit of a scary start to the ME—there was a medical withdrawal after the pools were posted. But the fencer was not among the protected group and was in a pool of 7, so we didn’t have to pull the pools back and restart. Then it turned out that two fencers were listed in other pools but were not actually here. Fortunately, they too were unprotected in pools of 7, so we escaped a huge reseed by pure luck.

This is why I love the new scanners for check-in out at registration. Traditionally, fencer check-in has been done by hand. A fencer appears at registration, the check-in person finds their name on the registration list, and very neatly crosses out the number next to their name. If it’s not done neatly, it can look as though the fencer above or below was checked in, too, so precise marks are very important.

Ideally, about 10 minutes before the close of registration, the registration staff will go carefully through the list and circle any numbers that are not yet crossed out. For each circled number, they will take an index card and put a label with the fencer’s name, division, and event on it. (Or if labels haven’t been made, they’ll just write the info on the card.) If the fencer shows up while the cards are being made, they’re crossed off the list just as the others were and their card is torn up and discarded.

Then the registration list and the cards are delivered to the bout committee, where the staff member running that event reads the names of all the fencers on the cards to give them their one last chance to come check in. Any who show up are crossed off and their cards discarded, and once the event is announced as closed, the rest of the cards are given to the computer operator so the no-shows can be withdrawn from the event. As part of this process, both the event manager and the computer operator go over the registration list to make sure there aren’t any uncircled numbers and to make sure the numbers of checked-in and withdrawn fencers add up to the proper total.

As you can imagine, there are numerous opportunities for error in this system. XSeed’s tiny print makes it difficult to find uncircled numbers, even using a straight-edge to check each line of the list. In large events like today’s ME, it takes a lot of conscious effort to stay focused on those marks through four full pages of fencer names. If a card is not made for a fencer who has not checked in, that name will not be read, that fencer will not be withdrawn, and we’ll end up with a fencer who is not there listed in one of the pools. It’s also pretty easy for the person doing check-in to mark off the name above or below the proper one, so that a fencer who is actually here will be listed as a no-show and withdrawn,  and end up missing from the pools. (That’s one of the reasons we post the “revised” or “updated” seeding before we post the pools, so that people can verify that they were properly checked in. Unfortunately, most fencers don’t bother to check that list, so we often don’t discover those errors until after the pools are posted and they can’t find their names there.)

With the scanner system, which is actually a patch to XSeed written by Joe Salisbury, one of our BC computer staff, fencers simply get the barcode on their membership cards scanned (the system has a membership number lookup for people who show up without their cards, but that’s a bit slower). At the end of check-in, the bout committee is handed a printed list of the fencers who haven’t checked in from which to make the usual n0-show announcements, and we don’t have to depend on unreliable human vision to find all the no-shows.

So how did we get two no-shows in pools in the ME this morning? Out at registration, with that huge line of fencers waiting to check in, they decided it would be faster to divide the registration list in half and do two check-in lines by hand instead of using the scanner. And all the eyes out at registration and in here on the BC stage who looked over the list and the cards missed those two names which were not crossed off. Exactly the situation the scanner system was created to prevent, so we’ve mandated that accuracy at check-in gets priority over speed, and that the scanners should always be used, even if using them takes more than the hour provided for check-in. An extra 10 or 15 minutes there is far easier than having to reset pools, especially after they’ve been posted or fencing has actually started.

Once the fencing is well underway, though, the day goes fairly smoothly. The Div I WS moves quickly through its two flights of pools and its DEs, vacating strips for the Veteran events coming in later in the day. The ME finishes pools and shrinks to only 16 strips, leaving room for the 18 pools of Div 2 MF when it starts. Today, at least, the schedule is working essentially as it was supposed to.

Today’s officials’ lunch is egg rolls and three varieties of fried rice, not great for sustaining referees through the long afternoon. The national office staff has a chat with the caterers and assures us that tomorrow’s menu will have more protein.

The ME, with repechage once again this season (much to our dismay), finally finishes after 11-1/2 hours. about 2 to 3 hours longer than it would have been without those extra rep rounds.

Tonight is once again a meal voucher night, but not as late as last night. It’s amazing how much easier the late nights are when the concession stand food is reasonably good.

Saturday stats:

10 events
603 competitors
End of competition: 8:30ish?

Alarm’s set for 6:00 am.

BC Diary: NAC A, Day 1

I never sleep well the first night in a hotel. I don’t know whether it’s the time change or just obsessing over what needs doing first thing in the morning, but I usually wake up every hour or so and then finally fall solidly asleep about 20 minutes before my alarm goes off. This morning was no exception.

According to the information sheet they gave us at check-in, the officials’ breakfast is at the hotel, instead of at the convention center as originally announced. When I get there promptly at 6:00 am, I’m surprised to be the first one there—usually a few of the armorers beat me. When I comment on being first, the hotel staff say they were told breakfast service started at 6:30, even though the officials were told 6:00. But the food was ready, so I was happy.

I head over to the venue around 6:30; I want to finish getting those strip numbers up and make sure the initial seedings are posted, since we weren’t able to do that last night. It takes about 20 minutes to finish with the strip numbers, and by that time, the computer staff is arriving, and we can see to getting the seeding up.

Or maybe not. Somebody’s grabbed the collated stack of signs and, thinking they were all mixed up, sorted them by weapon, so we need to resort them by day, which takes forever. Finally, as it nears 8:00, I tell everybody to just post the seedings and we can worry about getting the signs up once the pools are out.

Not a good start to the day. As a matter of fact, today turns out to be the worst start to a tournament in my decade working bout committee, aside from that disastrous first day of the 2003 Summer Nationals in Austin, which is in a class all its own.

It turns out that there’s breakfast for the officials over here, too. The local sports commission, in addition to the airport transportation for officials, is also providing breakfast and lunch. So there’s a continental breakfast here in the venue in addition to the hot breakfast over at the hotel, which it seems is included in the THS contract.

With the confusion over getting the seedings posted, I haven’t had time to talk with the BC staff about the data the Process Improvement Task Force has asked us to try to collect. They’ve provided a form to use for each event to enter times for various stages and make notes of delays or other problems, but with as many events as we have this weekend, I doubt we’ll be able to keep up. Most BC staff, unless they’re running one of the larger events, will be running three events simultaneously, and keeping up with the data collection will be difficult if not impossible. Eventually, we talk about the forms, and I tell people that if it’s a choice between keeping events moving along or collecting the data, data collection loses.

The day jerks along in fits and starts. I’m frustrated with fencers coming to us—just as we’re about to send out the pools for their event—to tell us they’re listed as a U when they’re really an A10 or that their points are entirely missing. It’s especially annoying when it’s information that’s been posted on the USA Fencing website for at least a week. Why don’t fencers remember to check their entry info until they’re about to fence? If it only affected these specific individuals, I’d be happy to let them suffer the consequences, but it affects others in their events, too, who shouldn’t have to pay for the laggards’ failure to verify their placement. So we call back too many sets of pools to fix errors uncaught before the close of registration.

The D1MF pools finish in time to make room for the assortment of Veteran events closing at 11:00, but the D2WE is slow enough that I end up delaying the start of the Veteran ME. I could dribble out a few pools scattered all over the room, but since the WE and the ME use essentially the same pool of referees, we decide to wait and start the ME all at once on contiguous strips once the WE works its way down to its round of 8.  I don’t like the delay much, but at least this way we’ll avoid worse problems later in the day when the Div 1 WF comes in.

The replay systems are all set up, though, so I send out the D1MF round of 8 to the finals strip and the three strips in pod F that have the replay systems. As it happens, though, the head referees have decided to use replay only for the semifinals on, at least until more people get trained on the system.

I wander over to the curtained-off officials’ area to grab some lunch. I’m happy to see it’s not box lunches, which are often pretty sad, but I’m not all that happy—it’s deconstructed box lunches: bread and cheese and cold cuts and condiments so we can make our own sandwiches. Oh, well—maybe it will be better tomorrow.

I’m happy to have strips to start the D1WF on time. It will run late—WF always runs later than our projections, so it’s good that there are enough referees to start their DEs wide on 24 strips, which will make it run a bit shorter. In the end, the WF gets to their 8 at about the time they were projected to finish, so that means we’ll finish up around 10:00 or 10:30.

At some point this afternoon, the real copier shows up, which is excellent. The tabletop copiers we were using up until the big one arrived are almost as slow as our printers. Copying and posting is slow enough as it is, with as few runners as we have here so far.

Those of us staying late (defined as after 7:00 pm) discover when we redeem our meal tickets at the venue concession stand that they cook their sandwiches to order. There are three different kinds of panini and hamburgers made with handformed patties. It’s the first tournament I can remember where the concession food is better than the regular officials’ food.

While the WF is fencing their 8, we post the initial seedings for tomorrow. That much, at least, will be done, and we can make lots of “check your seeding” announcements before close of registration in the morning.

Friday stats:
12 events
554 competitors
End of competition: approximately 10:15 pm

Alarm’s set for 6:00 am.