Voodoo & Vroom?

The 2013–2014 USA Fencing season has been a tough one for me.

It’s not that this year’s NACs have been anything out of the ordinary. They’ve run reasonably well, with most days finishing at or earlier than the projected times (though. as always, there were a few exceptions). I worked the October, November, and January NACs as BC chair, and was surprised to discover how much more like Summer Nationals this season’s NACs felt compared to previous years. I’m not sure if it’s the entry numbers, the general stress, worry about how the rest of the season will go, or just that I’m getting old, but this season’s NACs have pretty well wiped me out for the rest of the week by the time I get home.

So I was looking forward to working as a mere minion for this year’s JOs in Portland, especially since there were board working sessions and a formal board meeting attached. It would be nice, I thought, just to run events without being responsible for fitting events onto the available strips at the right times or dealing with testy coaches or over-involved parents.

And it was nice. It was fun getting a chance to chat with the fencers in the events I was running, and catch up with BC and other staff, and not need to keep one eye continually focused on the overall tournament. Practically relaxing, compared to a BC chair gig.

(Of course, there were a lot of meeting-related discussions going on all weekend, building consensus for proposals coming before the board, but that’ll be for a separate post.)

Part of the fun of this tournament, though, was because it was the Junior Olympic Championships and it was in Portland. Getting to Portland is always a bit strange for me, because it’s a short trip with no layover in my home time zone. Normally, this leaves me somewhat disoriented through the weekend without the all-day travel itinerary. But my early-morning flight, unusual for the Portland trip, left me groggy enough that I made a successful transition through the Tournament Time wormhole. Or maybe it was just spending most of the day after my arrival watching the referee numbers as we received updates on their travel woes—at one point Thursday, 29 of the 69 hired referees were affected by flight delays or cancellations, so we were doing lots of contingency planning for running events with only half the planned referees. In the end, only about 11 referees didn’t make it to Portland in time for the Friday morning start, though we heard some interesting travel sagas. (One example: Brandon, our BC chair, had his original 6-hour itinerary turn into an 18-hour trek, getting loaded and unloaded three separate times onto the same plane—including once when they were completely unable to detach the pushback cart—before its final departure from O’Hare.)

That this was JOs made it fun because it was was a championship, which meant that we once again had Larry and Dwayne, from Socket Events, to help run the show-and-tell parts of the tournament. In addition to helping with setup (not least with an awesome playlist on setup day), they handle the gold medal bouts on the finals strip. Because JOs is a championship, we had a formal spectator area for the finals strip, which made those late last bouts in the evenings far less depressing than they normally are. (Usually they remind me of that old Dick Van Dyke Show Christmas episode, where Van Dyke quips (in a Bela Lugosi voice) that working alone late at night is like “being the last living cell in a dead body”—a sad state for a national championship bout.) It’s about time we treated our championship bouts like championships.

We had an unexpected vendor booth at JOs, too. Kirsten Crouse (she’s our current Parent Director member of the USA Fencing board) put in a lot of hours working with Mark Lawrence, USA Fencing’s new Strategic Marketing Consultant, to bring in Tesla Motors:

The Tesla people had a second car outside the convention center, so people could take test drives, and the car inside attracted steady attention throughout the tournament. Kirsten told us at the board meeting that the Tesla reps said they had 4 Tesla owners drop by to chat, so it appears that our demographics are a indeed a good match for them. Pairing an emerging sport like us with an emerging manufacturer like them seems like a good basis for a potential long-term sponsorship relationship. I hope we’ll see them at future tournaments, too.

There are fun details being in Portland, too. The Trimet light rail lines make it easy to get around for dinner after the fencing is over (for me, only two of the five nights I was in town), the Foucault pendulum in the lobby is always mildly hypnotic, and lots of visitors took the trouble to acquire stashes of Voodoo doughnuts:

And I can’t neglect the carpet samples:

I just wish I could decide whether the cold I brought home is a new one or just a relapse of the one I brought home in January.


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