Category Archives: Fencing


Ooof. Hearing today that Gerrie Baumgart died is a tough one to wrap my brain around.

I first became aware of Gerrie Baumgart during the 1999 Summer Nationals in Charlotte, when my older daughter, competing in her first national tournament, signed a pool sheet that showed her winning one bout fewer than she’d actually won. Gerrie was the person who met Kate and her coach at the bottom of the stairs to the BC stage (like all good fencing parents, I was across the room, though paying close parental attention) to explain that verifying that her scores were correct was part of what Kate had done when she signed her scoresheet and that the scores would stand as entered. Gerrie was nice about it, even sympathetic, explaining that this was something most young fencers did once and only once, but Gerrie was clearly not someone who would be moved by piteous looks from fencers or rants by angry coaches.

When I began working as a bout committee trainee the following year, Gerrie was even more intimidating. She understood that some of us were new and just learning the ins and outs of running events, but she also expected us to pay attention and learn quickly. Making a mistake was regrettable but forgivable, as long as any regret didn’t interfere with the smooth running of the tournament and was not repeated. Repeated errors were likely to earn the offender one of Gerrie’s ferocious but discreet little chats in an out-of-the-way corner.

Gerrie was almost always head referee at the March NACs, back when they were the Division II/III/Veteran combination and always the tournament that brand new half-trained bout committee chairs—including me—were handed. I may have been terrified of Gerrie but I recognized immediately how much she could—and did—teach me about running strips, handling complaints and protests, and managing my crew. More than anything else, she taught me how to think not just two or three rounds ahead, but through the entire day, to make sure I knew when bottlenecks could occur and to assign strips to allow for possible double-stripping or other impromptu rearrangements as conditions changed throughout the day.

Mostly, though, Gerrie was a referee, and a developer of new referees. One of the most fun talks I ever had with her (after five or six years, I wasn’t scared of her anymore, and she seemed to think I’d become acceptably competent) was when I was writing this article about referees for American Fencing. She had great stories to tell from her decades fencing and refereeing—more than I could use—and we laughed a lot. With fencing daughters, including one who herself became a referee, I especially appreciated her stories about becoming one of the earliest women referees with an international license.

Baumgart says attending an engineering school for college got her used to bias against women. She wasn’t happy with it, but it wasn’t so unexpected to find it in fencing, too. “But I’m competitive and wanted to be better than I was, so I worked at it.”

“Ralph Zimmerman was good at seeking out younger referees and taking chances on them,” she says. “Women were chancy assignments. He asked me if I was willing to do whatever I was asked to get to the Olympic Games. I said yes.”

It turned out to be a huge commitment. She worked 17 world cups in about a year and a half to build her reputation as a suitable selection. But in 1996 in Atlanta, she became the first American woman to referee at the Olympic Games.

Occasionally—and considerably more than occasionally in recent years, at least when we were done in time—Gerrie would join the BC gang for dinner. Especially on the last night of a tournament, she liked a good steak, often followed by an Irish coffee—and stories and laughter and more stories and more laughter.

The last couple of years were pretty rough on Gerrie, with the death of her husband, along with her declining health. Though it might have been better for her, she wasn’t the type to abdicate what she viewed as her responsibilities to the fencing community. I hope that same fencing community recognizes how much Gerrie Baumgart gave us.




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The Agony Indicator

[WARNING: This post contains discussion of statistics by a non-statistician (last stats class I had was 44 years ago, a political science methods class I wasn’t much interested in even then). The numbers discussed are for entertainment purposes only and have not been analyzed for validity or reliability or any other measure of accuracy or usefulness. Not only that, while anyone is free to run amok playing with the potential implications or flaws in these numbers, I have no interest in doing so myself and will not participate in any discussion of them.]

Last week, while I was looking through old blog posts for something completely unrelated, I came across this Playing with Numbers post, which I’d forgotten about. It was a serendipitous find, since I’d been thinking about entry numbers since I saw the unexpected jump in entries for last month’s NAC in Richmond.

In that March 2011 post, I played with what I then called fencers-per-strip but is more accurately individual entries-per-strip (BC lives and dies by the number of entries, not by the number of fencers), and which I am now naming the Agony Indicator, after Hipmunk’s agony view, where you can see flight itineraries sorted by how awful the times and layovers are.

Back then, I looked at that season’s NACs to see whether the Agony Indicator correlated at all with what I called “perceived difficulty of tournament”—not the quality of the fencing but the difficulty of the schedule (flighted events, delays, strip & ref shortages, late nights). That year, as was often true with the event combinations then, the December and March NACs were significantly easier tournaments to run than the others, and October, November, and January (then mostly either Junior/Cadet or Junior/Division I combinations) were noticeably more difficult to fit into the available days. Here are the indicators I came up with for those NACs:

October NAC: 44.8

November NAC: 51.98

December NAC: 19.7

January NAC: 45.47

JOs: 40.1

March NAC: 34.63

There appeared to be some correlation—the size of the indicator varied directly with the perceived difficulty of the tournament, and the more difficult tournaments had indicators above 40.

Since I had been looking at those Richmond numbers a couple of weeks ago, I wondered how recent tournaments fared with my Agony Indicator. With a bit of research (I still have most of my Masin spreadsheets from tournaments I’ve chaired over the past few years) and a calculator, I took a look:

October 2012 NAC: 49.898

November 2012 NAC: 49.184

JOs 2013: 43.102

October 2014 NAC: 47.143

November 2014 NAC: 55.265

January 2015 NAC: 33.816

JOs 2015: 47.551

Those line up in the same range, reasonably correlating with the challenges. (One caveat: some of these tournaments also had team events, which are not included in the Agony Indicator calculation.)

So what about this season? Just for fun, I ran the numbers for the Gutenberg SYC Alia and I ran last month, and it came out to a not-at-all-agonizing 20.759. That’s the only regional tournament I’ve calculated the Agony Indicator for, though, so I’ve no idea whether my indicator correlates across a range of smaller regional tournaments.

The Richmond NAC last month came out to 57.984, the highest I’ve yet seen, which seems to be in line with what I’ve heard about how things went—multiple flighted events and very late Saturday and Sunday nights. The NAC coming up this month in Kansas City looks to be slightly better, at 57.164, and that number should improve slightly with the no-shows there. Baltimore in December, using the entry numbers as of last week, is in between at 52.776.

What about Summer Nationals? The Agony Indicator for SN calculates out to a completely different range, since the numbers are often three times those of a typical NAC, with only half again as many strips. The 2010 SN in Atlanta was 108.84. The more recent SNs worked out like this:

2013 SN Columbus: 107.369

2014 SN Columbus: 137.4

2015 SN San Jose: 114.344

Note: The entry numbers for 2013 and 2015 were almost identical, but 2015 had 4 fewer strips. Columbus 2014 had  as many strips as the year before but nearly 2,000 more entries.

What’s the takeaway? If you happen to come upon entry numbers and the number of strips planned before an event, you can calculate the entry/strip ratio for yourself. If the Agony Indicator works out to more than 40 for a NAC or for SN, more than, say, 105, you can expect multiple flighted events and late nights.

Got any spurious statistics of your own?

[This is my last post about (nonfiction) fencing for the foreseeable future, though I will blog on other topics occasionally while I work on finally finishing what I hope will be a publishable draft of my SN murder mystery.]

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Testing the Water

I didn’t even try to blog Summer Nationals this year.

There were a couple of reasons for that. The less important—but completely unexpected—one was that driving home from San Jose, when I swerved to avoid a zigzagger on I-680 in Concord, I ended up off the side of the road with my car totaled, and spent the next several weeks in too-frequent discussions with my insurance company over the settlement. (I’m still amazed that I had the good instinct not to hit my brakes in the heavy, high-speed traffic, that my airbags didn’t deploy, and even more, that I had not so much as an achy muscle from the collision.)

The more important reason I didn’t write about this year’s SN is that I was so completely done with big tournaments. Despite the somewhat reduced number of entries from the huge 2014 SN (essentially a return to the previous year’s numbers, which were not exactly small) and a relatively decent least-horrible schedule, it was all I could do to make it through my 8 days on the bout committee. I spent most of my days in a barely suppressed rage, too focused on not losing my temper at some poor innocent who had nothing whatsoever to do with my long-simmering frustration over problems that could have been fixed years ago but have not been. Essentially, I confirmed my suspicion that I needed some serious time away from USA Fencing.

When Brandon sent out this season’s request for BC availability, I told him I would be willing to serve as a last-minute replacement in case of an emergency cancellation, but that otherwise I was not available at all for national tournaments this season.

So far, I’ve not regretted that decision at all.

I’ve popped in to a couple of local Bay Cup tournaments, just to watch the fencing and see friends. That, at least, has not been spoiled by my national-level disgruntlement.

But I also wanted to test whether my BC-crabbiness was limited to national events or extended to running regional events as well, so I was happy to say yes to Rochester Fencing’s request to come help run their Ben Gutenberg SYC a couple of weekends ago. (Of course, there was extra incentive to say yes—my younger daughter is a saber coach at Rochester FC, and I could stay over a few extra days for a visit.)

Not just a smoothy floor, but natural light made the SUNY Brockport SERC a preternaturally pleasant venue.

Not just a smooshy floor, but natural light made the SUNY Brockport SERC a preternaturally pleasant venue.

The Gutenberg turned out to be the single best regional fencing tournament I’ve ever been involved with, starting from the moment I first stepped into the venue (SUNY Brockport’s gorgeous SERC) for setup on Friday morning. Until I walked through that entry and stepped onto the sport floor, I had not realized how inured I was to bare concrete floors. And the novelty never went away for me through the end of the last event on Sunday—every time I walked into the venue, my feet were surprised. It wasn’t just the floor surface, either—this was the least concrete-boxish venue I’ve ever seen.

The tournament ran really well, too—events ran on time, we always had enough referees, and Alia (my BC co-chair) and I trained a raft of great parent volunteers on Fencing Time and tournament operations. It’s just too bad that Rochester is such a remote location—the RFC could put together a great local organizing committee for a NAC or SN.

And what about my little test? Right this minute, with one small caveat, I wouldn’t mind if I never ran another fencing tournament again at all. My caveat? It’s still really fun to talk with fencers as they bring their DE slips to the BC. If I could do that every so often without having to do anything else—no BC management, no hearing about fencing politics, no complaining from coaches or parents, no insane entry numbers or strip and referee shortages—I might one day come back to working tournaments.

My extra three days in town were a lot of fun. Aside from the Monday, when I worried about how much more tired than usual I was, until I realized that I normally spend most of the day after a big tournament asleep on a plane, we mostly just took it easy, eating good food, seeing a bit of Rochester and specifically, the new club RFC is moving to. I got to watch a few of Christie’s classes and lessons. (I knew she was good, but it was amazing to see how much better she’s become since the last time I saw her teaching.)

And Christie took me to a great brunch at the Highland Park Diner:


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WPA #1: Switching Gears

July and August were not at all the months I expected. With Summer Nationals out of the way and my USA Fencing board term almost over, I’d planned to dig back into my manuscript and stay there for as long as it took to get it into publishable shape.

It wasn’t just the zigzagger I swerved to avoid on I-680 on the way home from San Jose. (The zigzagger got away clean, while my car was totaled from clipping the bumper of a pickup truck I was unable to avoid. The occupants of the pickup and I had nice chats with the CHP and our respective insurance companies, after which they continued on their way and I waited—completely uninjured, to my continuing amazement—for the tow truck, who ended up storing my totaled CR-V for four whole weeks before my insurance company, despite my nagging, managed to start the valuation process. But hey, no injuries, no ambulances, so I can live with that.) There were also a few USFA governance issues and some family medical complications, and suddenly there I was, halfway through August and nowhere near where I wanted to be with my book.

WPA program logoBut then I had the perfect event to put me back into serious crime fiction mode: I was off to Fox Valley Technical College’s Public Safety Training Center in Appleton, Wisconsin, for my first Writers’ Police Academy.

After a long day of flying, I wasn’t sure how interesting I’d find a lecture on 3D crime scene mapping, but Joe LeFevre (the FVTC criminal justice department chair who enticed Lee Lofland to bring WPA to Appleton) enthusiastically showed off the school’s Leica C10 laser scanner. Originally designed for civil and construction engineering use, the C10 is now increasingly used in such fields as archeology and law enforcement to create 3D computer models of scenes.

The Leica C10 scanner.

The Leica C10 scanner.

Joe LeFebre explaining the Leica C10's raw data collection.

Joe LeFebre explaining the Leica C10’s raw data collection.

For crime scene use, the scanner is usually set at 3 or 4 different positions, from which it collects location and color data to create a “point cloud” for up to a 900-foot diameter. At 50,000 points per second, each position takes 3-5 minutes to scan. Once the data is collected and processed, the Leica Cyclone software can create a raw 3D walk-through from the point cloud data, which can be imported into forensic CAD software.  Even the raw walk-through can be zoomed in and out, and the point of view can rotate and move through walls to view scenes from different angles. Such 3D crime scene models can be used to test the plausibility of witness accounts of events (such as where shots originated) and for courtroom presentations.

Joe also explained some of the work he’s done with others to use photogrammetry on crime scene photos to superimpose objects from those photos onto the 3D models, which can make courtroom crime scene presentations far more useful and coherent than flat photographs.

One defining characteristic of WPA attendees became perfectly clear during Joe’s presentation: we were an extremely curious crowd who would keep asking questions for as long as anyone would keep answering them. This caused problems through the entire weekend, because the WPA staff, both FVTC faculty and outside instructors, were happy to keep answering questions for as long as anyone kept asking them. Joe was by no means the first speaker who had to be rescued from both himself and the audience so that some semblance of a workable schedule could be maintained.

Next: Lights & Sirens & a Glock

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