Last month when I received the USFA Nominating Committee’s invitation to apply for nominations for election to the Board I realized I was seriously considering putting in for the Volunteer Director slot. Not being completely insane, I immediately contacted a few friends and family members and asked them to talk me down from the idea.
None of them were much help–the responses I got ranged from “Why wouldn’t you?” and “That’s a good idea–you should do it” to “If you don’t do it, I will hunt you down!” The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea, and within a couple of days, I’d sent in my application materials as directed.
Yesterday I received a note from the Nominating Committee thanking me for my application but explaining that because of the large number of excellent applications, they were unable to include my name among the nominees.
Here’s what I’d told the Nominating Committee in my cover letter:
In 2001, unhappy with the conduct of recent sectional tournaments, I attended my first section meeting and ran for section chair against the incumbent. Unknown to anyone outside my daughters’ fencing club, I lost, of course, but because Paul Soter said that anyone crazy enough to run for section office should be put to good use and nominated me, I was elected as Vice Chair for Juniors of the Pacific Coast Section.
I’d already begun working bout committee both locally and nationally, and found that I enjoyed running fencing tournaments, but my year as a section vice chair began my education in the governance and politics of the United States Fencing Association. In the dozen years since then, I’ve served in elected offices (division chair and Congress representative), appointed positions (Tournament Committee Chair, ROC/NOC Advisory Group Chair), and more informally (tournament schedule reviewer, occasional proofreader for American Fencing, Athlete Handbook revisions, and other national documents). While my experience has been frequently rewarding, it has just as often felt frustrating and futile.
Val Belmonte, our new CEO, has said that he sees his job as to transform USA Fencing from an amateur association into a professional organization, one dedicated to serving its #1 customers, our fencers. That is a view I share, and one that requires us to look at who those fencers are and what they need from their national governing body. For too long, we have operated as we have always done, without seriously addressing whether our classification and points systems and our tournament calendar and structure still meet the needs of our fencing population. Our financial struggles over the past two Olympic quadrennials have only exacerbated our situation and left us even less able to deal with our growth and changing demographics.
Here are what I see as important priorities for us:
Get our finances under control. In the short term, this means reducing and eliminating the deficit, which the current administration has made a good start on. Over the longer term, it means establishing a viable revenue model less dependent on tournament income, so that tournaments can be managed for the good of our athletes and team selection instead of for income maximization. Our increased entry numbers have kept us in survival mode to the extent that the fencer experience–let alone any spectator experience–is hardly considered in tournament management.
Create a tournament calendar and structure appropriate to our fencer demographics. Continue to develop our regional circuits at all age levels, including the addition of regional tournaments for Junior and Cadet fencers. Replace the outmoded divisional qualifying tournaments with a unified system of point standings for qualification to national championships.# Over the next quad, develop a national tournament calendar that can adjust to our continuing growth, fulfill—without being driven by—our team selection mission, and serve our entire athlete pipeline.
Create and manage an appropriate and effective USA Fencing identity. The new website, giving us more options and control over our public face, is a huge improvement in this direction, as is the improvement in our publicity operations. We should make our visual image and print identity more consistent and recognizable with the creation of an official house style, and should ensure that all licensed merchandise conforms to the image we want to project.
None of this will be easy. Some of it will be extremely difficult and will require discussion and debate and ideas that have not yet occurred to us. But I believe that my experience, particularly with tournament operations, will provide a perspective that has been missing from the board, and that I can make useful contributions to solving these puzzles.
One final note: as much as I support the direction of the new administration this quad, I take the fiduciary duties of the board very seriously. During the last quad, I believe the board was too trusting of the information provided to it by the national office and failed to perform its due diligence both by asking enough of the right questions and insisting on answers to those questions when asked. That I approve of the goals of the national office staff would not relieve me of the responsibility to ensure that USA Fencing is being managed effectively according to its mission.
I appreciate your consideration for nomination as Volunteer Staff Director. If you need any further information or have questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Sincerely, Mary Griffith
I thought a bit more, and consulted those same friends and family, and concluded that I wasn’t ready to give up yet. So I’ve decided to pursue a petition nomination, which requires that I collect signatures of at least 25 voting members from among at least four different USFA clubs.
I’ll be in Louisville with my petition, so if you’re willing to help me get on the ballot, I’d appreciate your autograph.
# When 60% of our possible qualifying events do not need to be fenced because they have 3 or fewer entries, our championship qualification process is broken. (Plus, I persist in believing that one should have to actually fence and win at least one bout to qualify for a national championship.)
UPDATE: OK, I thought it would be easier just to wait until after Louisville to send out extra petitions if I still needed signatures then, but so many people are asking… marypetition