Annamaria Lu has an interesting guest post over at The Fencing Coach about her first SN as a referee in Columbus. Go take a look.
This will be one monster grab-bag of a post. I’m mostly recovered from Summer Nationals—the hypnic twitching has subsided, my muscles have quit yelling at me, and I no longer feel as though I will drop off to sleep any minute, but my ability to focus on the work at hand is not yet what it should be. So I’m not even going to try—I’m just going to throw stuff up here as it comes to me.
This was for me the most difficult SN I’ve ever worked. That’s not to say that it was the worst SN I’ve ever been to—Columbus 2014 was not nearly the threat to Austin 2003, the all-time champion of horrible SNs, that I’d expected it to be—but it was easily the most challenging SN I’ve worked as BC chair. Partly it was the run-up to the actual tournament. Six weeks out we had no idea whether we’d have as many referees as strips. At the point where referee hiring is usually all but done, we were looking at only about 50 refs for the first half and 40 for the second half. This for a schedule based on 61 strips and a venue with 65 strips. (We use the extra pod mainly to minimize delays when an early event is still on strips needed to start a later event.) There were more than the usual number of problems with entries and eligibility, and figuring out BC staffing for 12 days instead of 10 turned out to be trickier than I had expected.
Mostly it was the unknowns I stewed over: Would we finally have enough referees? Strong enough referees? How would coaches and parents cope with the less-experienced-than-usual referee crew? Would the new BC process even work for SN? Would the 25% of the BC staff who’d never worked a SN before be more help than hindrance? Would the projected schedules hold up? How bad were the odds against June 30 finishing at the projected end time? Would we maintain at least a minimal level of competence through the whole 12 days? Would there be enough coffee in Columbus to keep us all alert enough to avoid the worst errors?
So I began the tournament more tired than usual. Fortunately, the first half was the easier half, the Vet/Div half, with a schedule that exemplifies what all of SN should be like. This gave us a chance to get comfortable with the new BC process before we got into the second half horrors, and gave all those eager new referees a chance to get acclimated to the unique pressures of SN.
• Favorite newbie ref conversation:
Newbie Ref (to Sharon Everson): Uh, I think there’s been a mistake. I just checked my report time for tomorrow and it says I’m assigned to Div I. That can’t be right—I’m only a 7.
Sharon (checking Newbie Ref’s name): No, you’re a 5. We promoted you. You’ve done well these first few days.
Newbie Ref (flummoxed): Really? I’m not sure I’m ready for that.
Sharon: You’ll do fine. Don’t worry—we won’t use you too far into the DEs, but you’ll be fine for the pools.
Most of those new and unknown referees were terribly excited to be at SN. They were enthusiastic and hardworking and eager to do their best. It was just heartbreaking that many were out of their depth, and simply didn’t have enough experience for the events they were asked to work. They did their best, but because of the shortage of experienced referees, they did not get the mentoring they needed and deserved. Much to my surprise, there were very few black cards this year—only 4 or 5 over the entire 12 days. We had one black card that was voided because the referee erroneously believed that failure to sign a scoresheet was grounds for expulsion, and there were a couple of sore losers who said something inappropriate to their referee or did something inappropriate with equipment, but nothing much out of the ordinary. By the time we got to the second half, when I’d expected more than the usual number of spectator black cards because of the less-experienced referee crew, coaches and parents seem to have grasped the idea that our refs were doing the best they could under the circumstances. (Either that, or those referees didn’t realize they could do something about abuse directed at them. I choose to believe it was tolerance and understanding.)
World Cup photo break:
So why so much trouble hiring referees for SN? There are those who believe it’s due to a few disgruntled troublemakers attempting to foment some sort of referee rebellion, but any such vocal complainers are not the source of the trouble—they are one symptom of a systemic problem. Our volunteer corps—in all categories—is so overextended, stretched so thin, that we’ve not been able to establish and run the recruiting and mentoring programs we’ve needed for years. Our tournaments—especially but not only SN—are so large and tightly scheduled and the economizing of the past several years to get our finances into the black have resulted in consistently terrible working conditions—hotels remote from the venue, inadequate meal options (both variety and quantity), unconscionable hours on concrete floors, etc., etc. Mix that with high-demand referees running out of vacation days or opting to use those days at better-paying, more pleasant tournaments, add in a lack of significant change despite years of complaints and warnings, and it’s all too easy for many refs to perceive such continued poor conditions as a lack of respect—even contempt—for the volunteers who make our tournaments even possible. Some referees who feel this way become vocal complainers. Others simply opt to do something else with their time and energy.
It will take us years to fix this.
The second half was what it was. There were occasional problems with the monitors, due to our original consumer-level equipment bought for proof-of-concept being overtaxed by the additional demands we put on it. (There’s a proposal for upgrading our equipment to handle the load.) By the time we got to the really ugly days, we were all in survival mode, focusing on getting through the next round, the next event, the rest of the day, hoping that meals would be palatable enough not to have to force ourselves to eat just for the fuel. (Hence the vacuum effect that occurred when candy or cookies or other treats were dumped onto tables in the referee corral.)
There was this:
Another favorite referee moment:
Day 11, about 7:30 am. Most of the tables in the referee corral are filled with referees getting their morning coffee fix, waiting for their 8:00 assignments. Adam Brewer stands up.
“I have something to say,” he says. “How many of you have been here since the first day?”
Perhaps 60% of the referees there—along with half the BC staff facing the corral—raise their hands.
Adam proceeds through the corral, high-fiving every raised hand.
This is inexplicably encouraging.
Somehow we made it through. Eventually there was this:
Inevitably, there were travel problems due to Hurricane Arthur and other storms around the country. Too many people got stuck an extra day in Columbus or strange layover cities on their way home, but it sounds like we all made eventually made it.
And those BC staff who’d never worked a SN before? They rocked.
Oh, and there were carpets:
Update: One last item that I forgot to include: if you haven’t seen them yet, these 360-degree panoramas of the venue are amazing. Take a look!
It had to happen–I was far too satisfied about heading west instead of toward Hurricane Arthur to get home. But it turns out there was a big storm in the Southwest, too.
Given a choice between hanging out at the Phoenix airport for 7 to 10 hours on the possibility of a standby seat at virtually impossible odds or a discount hotel voucher/morning flight combo, I went for the option with the comfy horizontal surface and fluffy pillows.
In short order, I and my little bag of complimentary toiletries were ensconced in a comfortable room in a hotel near PDX, and I was faced with something I had not dealt with for more than two weeks.
It was quiet.
No airport noise, no scoring machines, no clack and clatter of fencing weapons, no coaches yelling, no referees’ calls, few people at all.
My most serious problem today, aside from the cancelled flight, has been a bombardment of hypnic jerks. Though it sounds like these might be a specific category of annoying people at fencing tournaments, they are actually what happens instead of hitting the ground when you dream of falling. On the plane from Columbus, it was sometimes an arm or lower leg or my head that jerked me awake, but I also had one full-body twitch that nearly made the poor guy in the middle seat jump out of his skin.
Unsurprisingly, the Wikipedia article on hypnic jerks says that “A higher occurrence is reported in people with irregular sleep schedules.” Imagine that.
Once I had lunch, I pulled the blackout curtains closed and put myself to bed. Then–just as I was about to nod off–I set my alarm for morning, just to be completely safe. One appropriately timed jerk woke me just as the Giants game started, so I turned on the SF radio feed on my MLB At Bat app and let the voices of Dave Fleming and Johnny Miller put me back under. (Which was fine–the Giants lost again, as I discovered when a jerk woke me during the post game show.)
A couple of hours (and a few jerks) later, I got up and got some dinner. After I finish this post, it’ll be bedtime again. I’m hoping the hypnic jerks will subside soon, though after so many days of forcing myself to resist the urge to nap, I can see it might take a few days for my sleep center to readjust to normal life.
In the meantime, I can wallow and revel in the quiet.
I hadn’t planned it, but falling behind on my SN posts for the last few days has turned out well for me. My biggest worry for this morning was how I would manage to stay awake long enough to get onto my plane. Writing the three previous posts has solved that problem nicely for me, leaving me only a few minutes now until my flight starts boarding.
I expect my 4-hour leg to Phoenix will feel much shorter, as I don’t expect to even stay awake for takeoff. I just hope I avoid catching the same type of nasty rhinovirus that caught me on the way home last summer–sleeping for the next week would be much easier without the sneezing and coughing, too.
Once I’ve recovered a bit, I’ll write my SN post-mortem post, with photos (yes, including the much-requested panorama of refs watching World Cup games!) and a few of the odd or funny incidents that caught my attention.
Right now all I need to do is keep my eyes open for the next 10 minutes.