Monthly Archives: July 2011

SN Day 3

Today was a revelation.

An amazing, extraordinary day.

For the first time in years, I had a day off at SN early enough in the proceedings that I wasn’t already completely exhausted, too tired to do much of anything except wander over to the venue and aimlessly watch fencing.

So what did I do on this extraordinary day, when I had the energy to thoroughly enjoy my time off?

I wandered over to the venue and watched fencing.

First, of course, I slept in. Christie had a day off, too, though only from being a referee—she had kids to coach and for once had to get up earlier than I did. I dozed, and eventually checked email and surfed the web, and eventually got up, looking forward to having a small exorbitantly priced Jamba Juice for brunch instead of one of the Purple Parrot’s cholesterol plates. (It was just as good as I thought it would be, too.)

I talked to people from my daughters’ old club. Some of the fencers I had known when they were first fencing in the Youth 10 Men’s Sabre, and it was great watching them compete in the Junior event. One kid, now twice as tall as when I first knew him, was a particular treat to watch, since he’d finally figured out that he is tall and dominated his pool.

Conveniently, the fencer my daughter was coaching was on the strip on the other side of the scoring table from the one I was watching, so I could see from a relatively discreet distance what she looked like as a coach. Watching her reminded me of the rules she made for me for tournaments when she was 12, one of which was “Don’t say anything corny.” So I won’t.

Late in the afternoon, I toddled off to Dave and Lisa’s, where we sat in the backyard and watched the sun go down. Their house is in the foothills to the west of town and the view is spectacular.

Quail wander through the yard and it's too dry for mosquitoes.

Dinner was equally spectacular, with ribs and beans from the smoker and veggies from the grill.

All in all, though, nothing particularly unusual about the whole day, nothing really all that different from other days off at SN. What was so revelatory about this particular day off?

I had fun.

I remembered that I used to have fun like this all the time at tournaments and realized that it had been years since I’d had this kind of fun at a Summer Nationals. I’d completely forgotten what it used to be like to have fun at national tournaments.

And that is a real problem.

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SN Day 2

The referee corral while pools are out.

Kristin and I are tag-teaming today—first she’ll help me with my 235 Junior Men’s Foil fencers and this afternoon, I’ll help her with her 187 Cadet Men’s Épée fencers. Both events have tableaux of 256—8 pages—and our styles of running tables are quite similar, so we have fun working together. She’s lefthanded, so she always takes the first four pages and I take the last four pages; we never bump elbows and we collect our recorded slips in a single pile between our two groups of pages.

Foil and épée DEs tend to come in waves, in contrast with saber, where the bouts come in continuously because they are so much shorter. So while one of us is recording a bout, the other quizzes the next few fencers in line to sort them into the appropriate halves of the table: “No, you need to wait in line for her behind those two gentlemen.” “Aha! You I can help, because you’re on my pages.” Junior and Cadet fencers are mostly fairly experienced, too, so we can joke around with them more than in some other events. Not many of them sign scoresheets without scores or with their opponent as the winner, either.

Waiting for DE assignment

This SN still feels strange to me, though. The spectators—coaches and parents, but mostly coaches—are quicker to be upset and more upset than the specific circumstances would seem to warrant. Some are angry that we fail to realize that two fencers from the same club were in the same pool, even though one did not list a club on their entry or membership forms and no one from their club checked the initial seeding and notified us before close of registration. The level of fury that we do not automatically know the club affiliations of each and every one of the 3,500+ fencers in Reno for SN seems a bit over the top.

Referees are getting hit hard, too. While the assigners are making every effort to assign solid referees to team selection categories, like the Junior and Cadet events (and later this week, the Veteran events), there aren’t enough highly rated referees to go around for the Youth events, too. Too many coaches seem unable to cope with the idea that new referees need experience in order to become excellent referees, and that youth and developmental events are appropriate events in which to get that experience.

The more experienced referees are used to regular abuse, of course. It’s difficult, after all, to take a prominent coach too seriously when one day he tells you that you are the best young referee at the tournament and the next day that you are the worst referee he’s ever seen, all depending on whether his fencer won or lost that day. But it’s wearing, just the same, and this year it seems as though many coaches who should know better are laying into both new and experienced referees. It’s no wonder Sharon has such a hard time hiring for SN—what sane person would want to work so many tough 12-15 hour days standing on concrete floors and being abused by coaches and parents?

At least events are moving along fairly briskly so far this year. Kristin’s épée guys finish up shortly after 10:30, about the normal lag past the projection.

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SN Day 1

Alarm went off at 5:00 am, of course.

At least I slept well, unusual for the first night in a tournament hotel. Probably has to do with bringing my own pillow from home, a luxury not available when I fly in. That, and perhaps I’ve finally become fatalistic about what will happen and not stewing over what I can do to prevent disaster.

Breakfast is interesting. As usual on the first day of one of our tournaments, the restaurant is not prepared for the onslaught of officials and fencers. The computer crew tell me that at 5:30, there were only two servers on duty. By the time I get there, 15 minutes later, there are several middle-management types working taking orders, too. I always wonder whether the problem is that the hotel sales department never warns the restaurant management what to expect or whether the restaurant management discounts the estimated numbers we provide and fails to adjust their staffing accordingly.

It’s good that I got there early because of needing to finish putting up strip numbers. The BC staff and referees who got to the restaurant an hour later end up waiting half an hour or more for their food. The meals are something to behold, too: with our vouchers, we may order from six or eight menu items, all huge portions of egg/hash browns/breakfast meat/toast or belgian waffles or breakfast burrito or pancake sandwich. We can feel the cholesterol congealing in our arteries just looking at it all. Most of us eat barely half of what’s on our plates.

Over at the venue, I put the strip numbers up on the last few pods. The computer crew is still finishing up the initial seeding for today; once it’s copied and posted, it’s nearly 7:30. When I announce that the seeding is posted, with the warning to fencers to check that their information is correct, it’s as though the bulletin boards are suddenly magnetic, the way they appear to suck everyone toward them. Usually when I make that announcement, movement toward the bulletin boards is barely perceptible.

I’m a bit concerned about the BC staff we’ve got. For the first time in years, we’ve got trainees at SN, people who’ve only worked a single NAC before. They’ve got significant regional experience and did well at their first NACs, but we prefer to give trainees more national experience before we dump them into the chaos that is SN—we want to keep them volunteering for several years, after all, and not scare them off right away.

Fortunately, due to confusion about whether some BC staff would be used for the Zonal Championships, we’re staffed a little heavier than usual for many days. Instead of everyone working multiple events every day, most of us will have some days when we only work a single event, which will be a nice change from last year in Atlanta. And instead of only two of us as chair, there are three of us, so none of us will have more than four days as BC chair, also a big improvement over last year. But even hiring everyone who was available (and then some), coverage is thin on some days, especially on the computer side toward the end of the week.

When the referees finally wander in (a bit later than expected, between the slow restaurant service and the length of the first day morning meeting), it’s obvious that referee hiring was a problem, too. It looks to those of us who’ve worked a lot of national tournaments over the past few years that about half of the referees are completely new faces. After I got home, I asked Sharon for a list of SN referees, and it looks like only about 20 of them were complete strangers to me. But when you consider that many experienced referees don’t work all of SN—because they know better—the number of relatively inexperienced referees working each day is probably significantly higher than usual for SN. (And as it is, SN usually has a higher proportion of less experienced referees than do NACs, because of the number of youth and developmental events as opposed to team selection events being held.)

Fortunately, we’ve got an easy day to start with. It’s not an especially small day, with 602 entries, but it’s only four events, so it’s not a complicated day. It runs later than projected, of course, but by less than an hour, and we are, after all, in Reno, where there is food available however late we finish.

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SN Day 0: Setup

(Finally getting around to writing up SN. Had a lovely time while my daughter was still home after SN, but once she left on Thursday, the typical SN exhaustion became apparent, and I spent most of Thursday and Friday dozing off at random times.—mg)

Christie flew in mid-day on Wednesday and we spent the afternoon on various errands (including finding her some comfortable shoes for refereeing and baking the three varieties of cookies I’d mixed up the day before).

We left home Thursday morning almost exactly when I’d wanted to and made good time up over the mountains. We were still in the midst of the uncharacteristically pleasant low- to mid-80s weather we’ve had most of the summer so far, and the drive was gorgeous, with patchy snow still on the ground over Donner Summit. So strange to have such an easy travel day to get to SN—Reno is an even easier—and far more scenic—drive from home than San Jose, but somehow being in my home time zone was oddly disorienting.

When we got to Reno, it was still too early to get into our room at the Atlantis, so we walked over to the convention center to see how setup was going. Most of the strips were already laid, but the scoring machines weren’t up yet—there was a constant long line of fencers getting their gear checked, and the armorers moved all their personnel into weapons inspection instead, which was a good thing. Anything to keep the inspection lines short on the first morning of competition, even if it means I have to come in early to get all the strip numbers up.

We had a few BC glitches: a phantom problem with the autofeed mechanism on the copier vanished completely both times the service guy showed up to fix it, so he cleaned it thoroughly and we’re hoping that will prevent any further problems. But the copier must be an older model than we’ve had recently—even though it looks just like our normal high-speed copier, it works at only half the speed we’re used to. (But at least it works.)

Somehow we’re down to only 3 or 4 reams of paper, so Marc went shopping for another couple of cartons and a few odds and ends, like push pins. The bulletin boards provided by the convention center are even more wobbly and decrepit than usual, potentially a problem with the limited aisle space we have here, quite a change from the vast acreage we had in Dallas this past winter.

The computer staff are wrestling with that weird corruption of the download again, too. It doesn’t happen every tournament, and they haven’t yet figured out exactly what causes it, but every so often the process of converting the Railstation data into the format that XSeed requires creates duplicate entries and sometimes combines separate entries with the same surname into one, among other weird glitches. Mostly it just requires hours of close work verifying the entries, though occasionally the computer crew has to crank up the one ancient laptop that still has Access 95 on it, so they can hack into the old Access code to fix things. How anyone can imagine that we want to keep working with the 18-year-old XSeed forever still mystifies me. (It’s entertaining, though, to see Dan McCormick’s surprise when one of the other computer staff shows him something that he doesn’t remember that XSeed can do—it’s been a long time since he wrote the original program.)

We leave the venue around 8:00 pm. Christie left hours earlier to move our stuff into our room and came back just as we were leaving. We decide to eat dinner at the Purple Parrot, so we’ll know where it is when we need to find it for breakfast in the morning. Sharon Everson joins us—she gives us the bad news about referee numbers: normally she hires around 140 referees for Summer Nationals. Last year we had only about 120; this year, begging and pleading and cajoling, she’s only managed to persuade 104 to come to Reno. The day schedule, of course, was created months ago based on normal referee numbers; the times assume most saber events, at least, will need to be flighted because of low referee numbers, but we could have problems with other events, too.

We shall see.

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