Tag Archives: BC

How Many BC Staff? Part 2

I have to admit that I find the idea of running separate BC tables with separate staffs within the same hall completely bewildering—I cannot imagine how it could be supposed to improve the running of national fencing tournaments.

Even assuming we had enough BC volunteers to double up the staffing and were willing to pay extra for a second stage, additional computers, and a second microphone, I can’t see how it would work. We couldn’t simply split the hall evenly in half. Throughout any given day, the number of strips required to run a single event can vary from 40 or more for the pool round down to a single pod of 4 strips—and then the finals strip. As the 3 to 10 events of differing sizes we’d run each day progressed, we’d constantly need to shift the allocation of strips between each BC table—either that, or we’d need to split events themselves into smaller pieces, which would be even more confusing.

And then there’s that second microphone. We usually have two for Summer Nationals, so that the BC staff running team events can call their captains directly from the team table. In such close proximity, it’s pretty easy to see and hear when someone is already talking over the PA system. But with widely separated BC stages, announcements in a venue with a less-than-ideal sound system (as in Detroit this month) would be completely incomprehensible (instead of just mostly incomprehensible).

But there are already circumstances where we run, in effect, satellite BC tables. Take teams, for instance. At NACs, it’s less apparent, because team events are relatively small, but we usually run team events relatively independently from the individual events, from a dedicated floor-level team table. We set up a team computer with a single computer operator plus table staff for each team event, though at NACs, there are seldom multiple team events running at the same time. We run team events on Fencing Time, a huge improvement over when I started, when they were run entirely by hand. (I wrote in detail about running a team event in my BC Diary: Day 7, so check that out if you’re interested in more details—just scroll down past the Congress Meeting description.)

At Summer Nationals, where there is often more than one team event going on at once, we usually allocate a block of strips to the team table, to be used by all the team events as needed. There’s a bit of shifting strips back and forth throughout the day as needed, but with the team table staff there within easy reach of the BC chair, it’s easy to manage (as long as there are enough strips in the room for the total we need, which for SN is not always true—but that’s a different issue).

In the past, when we’ve used convention centers or hotels with split venues, we’ve created satellite BCs to work the second room, along with an armorer and trainer to handle problems as they occur. At the JOs at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs a few years back, most of the saber events were isolated in a ballroom across the lake from the main part of the venue. And I still laugh at how John Carollo, bored serving as the lone trainer in a small, column-cluttered second room at a Reno NAC one March, insisted on acting as “personal executive assistant” to me and Gerrie Baumgart, posting sheets for us, and directing fencers to the proper places from which to address us.

If we had unlimited personnel, both BC staff and volunteers, we could set up a satellite table near the pods used for an event’s DEs, so that fencers wouldn’t need to walk all the way to the BC table and back each time they won a bout. It wouldn’t make much difference in the running of the tournament or in the overall length of the day, but it might be nicer for the fencers (though that’s one of my favorite parts of running tournaments—I’d miss talking with fencers through the whole DE tableau). We’d just need the one or two people to run the tableau, some visible place for them to sit out by the pods, and volunteers to run the bout slips back to the computer operators at the main BC table every so often.

In a way, this is what we do now when we assign DEs by pod; we just designate one referee as pod chief or pod captain to run a small section of the tableau out there, except that we don’t make the pod captains keep track of the completed bout slips. But if we had enough BC staff to run sections of the tableaux out near the strips where the bouts occur, that would free up referees from administration to work more bouts as referees. (Though I’m not sure I can imagine an épée event without Mr. Alperstein and his famous Alperstein System demonstrating the proper way to run a DE quadrant.)

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How Many BC Staff Does It Take To Run a National Fencing Tournament?

I realized from some of the comments on Fencing.net after my Playing With Numbers post that there are still a lot of misconceptions about how the bout committee works. One comment suggested that a more useful statistic than the ones I’d come up with would be the number of bout committee staff per total fencers—that more BC staff would make tournaments easier to run. Another suggested that splitting the hall in half and having two separate BC tables and staffs would ease tournament operations.

Neither is true.

(Don’t think for a minute, though, that we don’t need more BC staff. However, what we need is a larger pool of qualified staff to hire from, not more people up on the platform at any given time. We need more staff so we have time to train current staff to handle jobs like lead computer and BC chair, and time to train new people at the entry level. With more regional tournaments, we need that larger pool to help those organizers staff their events—we ought to have (and are already planning) a BC staff list like the referee list the FOC has on FRED.)

For a typical NAC, we hire a BC chair, a computer lead, three computer operators, and three table staff. If the NAC is very large, as the November and January NACs were this season, we’ll add another table person. If there are many events—say, more than 18 over 4 days, as in March this season, with all those Vet age-levels—we’ll also add a fourth table person. If there are team events, as at JOs or the March NAC, we’ll hire both a fourth table person and a fourth computer operator, because teams are run on a separate computer at a dedicated floor-level team table.

During the week or two before the tournament, the BC chair and computer lead use the strip management spreadsheet (which gives us the number of pools, DE bouts, and estimated times for each round of each event, among other useful information), to plan the staff schedule, which is sent out to all staff a few days before the tournament. Usually, computer staff each day work one computer with all the events in a single weapon. Table staff assignments vary a bit more—one person might work a single huge event, or one morning and one afternoon event, or one morning and several simultaneous small afternoon events.

The BC chair and computer lead normally fly in late Wednesday or early Thursday to be able to work on set-up day at the venue, usually along with a couple of other BC staff whose flights are early enough, unpacking the big black BC crate (just like the ones strips are shipped in). The computers are unpacked and the network set up: there is a master computer and three laptops set up as slaves; if there are team events, another laptop is set up as a team computer for when it will be needed.

(On tournament days, you’ll usually see quite a few more computers up on the platform. Tanya has one with access to Railstation, so she can check (and correct) entries and fencer profiles. The BC chair and computer lead usually bring their own laptops—I use mine to run the strip management spreadsheet for planning throughout the tournament. The head referees often bring their own machines, too. This proliferation of electronics got so bad, what with all the referees who want to charge phones or other devices, too, that this season we seriously upgraded our power strips; the tournament computers are always on a separate circuit from everything else.)

Here’s how an event typically runs:

Before the event closes, the table staff person (we’ve never figured out a good title for this position—event manager? competition coordinator? generic BC person?) retrieves the event sign and bio forms from the event folder, picks a marker color for the event, and stakes out a place at the BC table to hang the sign and set up the table side of the event. At close, she (usually a she, though by no means always) receives the printout of the no-shows from the registration desk and calls them over the PA system. Once that’s done, the list is given to that weapon’s computer operator to withdraw the no-shows, update the seeding list, and create the format sheet.

When the final seeding and format sheet are printed, the operator gives them to the table staff for copying and posting; once it’s posted, she announces that it’s up. Meanwhile, the computer operator sets the pools, checking for unresolved conflicts and that the larger pools are the higher-seeded pools. If solutions to the unresolved conflicts can be found within about 20 minutes, that is done; otherwise, they are left standing as unresolvable. (This process can be far more complicated than it first looks, requiring frequent reference to the seeding list and multiple cascading swaps.) Then a seeded copy of the pools is printed and given to the referee assigner, and a randomized copy of the pools and an alphabetical pool list are given to the table staff. The BC chair, by this point, has informed the table person of the strips her event is assigned to, and those are penciled onto the pool assignment sheet before it is copied and posted. (We prefer to post the seeding and pools separately, especially for point events, in order to allow a bit of time for fencers to verify their final seeding; unfortunately, few take advantage of the opportunity.)

Once the pool and strip assignments are posted and announced, the table person adds the strip numbers to the pool sheets, which she’s already marked with the event color to distinguish from the other events running that day. We usually try to spread any pools of 6 around among the 7s, to allow double-stripping the 7s more easily once the 6s are done. Then, all that’s needed are the referee assignments; some assigners (most, so far this season) are fairly quick at this, while others can take 30–40 minutes to allocate 50 or 60 referees to 30 or 40 pools. On occasion, the referees have not yet finished their morning meeting by the time the BC has events ready to go; some head referees make a point of getting to the platform in plenty of time, while others are not so conscious of the passage of time and therefore get calls from the BC chair asking if they are on their way yet.

When the assigner provides the referee list, the table person adds the referee names to the pool sheets; for a big event, we often split the list, and two or even three people will copy the referee names. Then the referees are called to pick up their sheets, and for the next 5 or 10 minutes, they’ll come in person or call to ask for second calls on fencers who’ve not yet shown up. Once the fencing is underway, the BC staff—both computer and table sides—for this event are free for most of the next 90–150 minutes, depending on the weapon.

What do we do with the free time? Read email and web-surf for those with connected devices, play computer games, read books, knit or cross-stitch, make group coffee runs if there’s a Starbucks or Peet’s in the convention center, shop at the vendors in the hall, work on other fencing matters (check seeding for the next day’s events, create training materials, other projects). Sometimes we even go watch fencing.

Ideally, about halfway through the pools, the table staff will tour the pools to see how many bouts are left on most strips and whether any have fallen significantly behind the rest, in which case, the assigner is informed and extra referees might be sent out to take bouts, if there is an extra strip available. Some assigners—but not all—keep a close watch on their events and handle this themselves. Sometimes, though, head referees get pulled into what we fondly refer to as “Things” (as in, “Sharon got called out to a strip for a Thing”)—requests to observe a particular referee or mediate a rules dispute or see that a black card is handled properly, so it never hurts for the BC to keep an eye on progress, too.

Once the pools start coming in, the table person checks them off on her master sheet and hands them to the computer operator for entry. Once all are entered, the operator prints out the round results, on which the table person draws a line between the ups and outs if there is a cut, and gets it copied, posted, and announced. While that is done, the operator prints the DE tableaux, once with divisions for the assigner and one without for posting. The assigner and the chair have usually already decided on the number of strips to be used for the DEs and how they will be grouped (in pods, in pairs or (preferably not) as singles), so the table person writes the strip assignments on the table and gets it copied, posted, and announced, too.

Meanwhile, back at the computer, the operator prints out the bout slips (at 4 per page, a full 256 table would be 32 pages for the first round alone), marks the sheets with the event color, and slices and sorts the bout slips in stacks for each bracket of the table, the process we refer to as “slicing and dicing.” When the assigner gives her the tableau with the referee assignments, the table person makes two copies and returns the original to the assigner. One set will be used at the table for recording bouts as they come in; the other is split up and given to the assigned referees with the bout slips for that section of the table.

After the slips have been sent out with the referees, the table person organizes her tableau. Most of us lay the pages out vertically in pairs—a table of 128 prints out in four pages, so pages 1 and 2 would be on the left and pages 3 and 4 to the right. The table person then numbers the bouts on the tableau (XSeed puts bout numbers on the bout slips but not on the tableau, so if we want to match them up, we need to do our own numbering) and then sorts the slips for each round into quadrants (or octants, in the case of an 8-page table of 256) so that there’s a stack for each page.

As bouts come in, the table person verifies that the winner is actually the fencer the slip says it is (you’d be amazed at how many fencers sign slips that say their opponent won), records the winner and the score on the paper tableau, writes up the next bout slip if there is one, and stacks the returned bout slips for the computer operator, who usually comes to pick them up more often than the table person gets a chance to take them over to the operator.

Why do we even run the paper tableaux? Why don’t we just enter results directly into the computer? When there are four or five events at once in the same weapon on a single computer, there’s less waiting for the fencers if there are separate lines to turn in bout slips for each event. It’s easier for the computer operator to enter the data accurately if she’s insulated from dealing directly with several hundred fencers. And with all the paper we produce, even marked with its distinguishing colors, it’s easy for bout slips to be misplaced, and the paper tableau gives us an additional record of each bout in such cases, rare though they are.

A table of 128 (or fewer) can be run easily by a single person; using two for an event that size is overkill. Only if we’ve got a BC trainee will we split a 128 table, so they can see how the event is done without it being overwhelming. For a table of 256, it’s nice to have two people for at least the early rounds of the DEs—8 pages of tableau is a bit of a stretch for one person to cover, though it’s nowhere near impossible. Sometimes, if there aren’t too many other things going on, we’ll have a computer operator or a volunteer act as a concierge of sorts, to check fencers’ bout slips as they arrive and direct them to the proper half of the tableau. (For a table of 512, which the BC has done once and hopes never to do again, we’d need at least 3 people—preferably 4—to run the 16 pages of tableau, and a concierge would be a necessity rather than a luxury.)

But those extra bodies are only useful for the first few rounds. From time to time, I’ve run a 256 saber table alone, and it’s always a rather breathless experience getting through the the first few rounds, because the bouts just keep coming and coming. (But it’s fun, too!) Big tableaux in foil and epee are easier to keep up with, because in those, the fencers tend to come in small waves—the bouts are longer and more of them go to time. But by the time any event fences down to the 64, one person is plenty for running the table. Getting the strips and referees assigned for the round of 8 is a snap (though less so than it used to be for events using replay these days); once the fencing is completed, all the table person needs to do is arrange and mark the bio forms according to placement for the medal presentation and then make sure the bio forms are returned to the computer operator for the event folder.

For tournaments with many smaller events (in Detroit we held 44 events), it’s common for a table person to run two or three events simultaneously. When events are only two or three pools, if that, and the DEs fit on a single page, it’s easy to run multiple events as long as each has its own color, and it’s far less stressful than adding extra people to the crowd already on the BC platform.

But what about that idea of having two separate BCs in the same hall? Wouldn’t that solve the crowding problem? I’ll talk about that next time, along with running teams and a few other ideas.

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Detroit & Its Minions

I hadn’t originally planned to go to Detroit. The March NAC is always one of the smaller USFA tournaments, so we use it for training new staff and trying out experienced staff in new jobs. (The FOC does the same with referees, mentoring new ones and allowing them to stretch their skill.) But we were shorthanded—not enough BC folk were available to staff this one, so I filled one of the empty slots.

We never saw the coffee place on the corner open, even with our reasonable hours this NAC.

Downtown Detroit was like no other downtown I’ve ever visited. The skyscrapers are old, blocky brick and concrete—almost none of the glass-sheathed buildings you see all over in other cities. Ground floor parking areas of empty buildings are wrapped in chain-link fencing, and there’s not much traffic, even on weekdays at what would normally be rush hour elsewhere. Patrick Webster, of the local organizing committee (LOC—more about them in a bit) told me that one in every four buildings downtown is empty and that there is a multi-year demolition plan to deal with the decaying empty shells.

The Peoplemover was handy for getting to the parts of town with more restaurants. We ate at a local dive bar with good burgers a couple of nights, and ventured a bit further afield to the Town Pump Tavern on Saturday night, where after 7:00 pm, we were only the second group in the entire place. (Their mac & cheese, says Joe, who tries mac & cheese everywhere we go, was one of the best he’s had.) By the time we left, the place was almost half full. The walk back to the hotel had an almost eerie, ghostly feel to it.

Outside the downtown area, though, there are apparently lots of very nice, very enthusiastic people, a good portion of whom signed up to work with the largest and best-organized LOC I’ve seen in more than a decade working national fencing tournaments. They put together goody bags for fencers and for officials, they provided local information and posted each day’s results at their big table next to registration, and they had multiple (as in many!) runners for the BC from first thing in the morning until late afternoon when we told them we’d have nothing more for posting.

Even late in the afternoon, we had multiple minions at our beck and call.

With the relative scarcity of runners so far this season, we were primed to appreciate Detroit’s minions, as they referred to themselves. But it wasn’t only the 10 to 15 minutes per round that having people to post for us saves us that was so impressive—this crew fetched and carried and cleaned up spills and more. Someone would come to the BC table with a camera they’d found in a restroom or weapons abandoned on an unused strip, and we’d merely call “Minion!” for one to immediately appear to take the info about when and where the item was found and carry it off to the LOC’s lost-and-found operation. This was the first NAC in years where we never needed to call for runners on the microphone (which was just as well, because the PA system wasn’t one of the better ones we’ve ever had).

Even the plentiful supply of runners wasn’t what impressed us most about this LOC, though. But that’s for my next post.

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If It’s February, This Must Be Dallas Again

There are definite advantages to running tournaments in the same city two months in a row: By the second month, we know where the hotel is, that we want a Red or Blue train (and NOT a Green) to get to the venue, that restaurants in the West End stay open late enough for officials to get real dinners—as long as we don’t try to go back to the hotel to drop off our laptops and change clothes first—and that the local beer of choice is Shiner Bock (though the Shiner Seasonal was excellent, too).

But there’s one big drawback: The instant I stepped through the door into the hotel, I felt as though I’d never left. Not a good thing—as a general rule, you don’t want the day before a national tournament to feel like the fifth day, normally well past the stage where BC staff mutter to themselves constantly to talk their way through chores that only three days earlier were effortless.

The Junior Olympics, though, are a relatively easy tournament to run. Entry numbers are high, but the number of events is small, and even with the addition of Junior team events, the schedule is not complicated. For JOs, too, we had a better layout than for NAC C last month—no Tienanmen Square and no columns blocking sight lines from the BC stage—and not least for me, I wasn’t BC Chair this time.

My official job through the weekend was to run Cadet Women’s Epee on Friday, Cadet Women’s Foil on Saturday, Junior Women’s Foil Team on Sunday, and Junior Women’s Foil on Monday. By Monday, I was definitely recognizing familiar faces among the women foilists, but it was nice to have a bit of a break from all the WF on Sunday helping Carla with her big Cadet Men’s Sabre and Nancy with her even larger Junior Men’s Foil.

On Saturday, we had a visit from one Mr. Bernardini of the FIE, who came to look at how we run our tournaments. An Italian native, he had little English, so Peter Burchard, one of our head referees (with little Italian), provided French translation for the conversation between Mr. Bernardini and Dan McCormick, who wrote the XSeed tournament software we currently use and worked computer for this JOs.

Mr. Bernardini, it turns out, was impressed with both our software and the size of our tournaments, especially that we run more than two events at the same time with as many entries as we have. Later that evening, at the board meeting, he expanded on the topic a bit, describing the day’s events as running “like a Swiss watch” and complimented our tournament operations. (I hope one day he is able to visit us for a Summer Nationals, just to get an idea of the scale of events we handle.) Nancy (whose French is fluent) talked with him directly, and said he also commented on how polite both our fencers and our coaches were.

My relatively easy schedule this time allowed me time—though not enough—to start talking with people about the Tournament Committee’s current proposal for revising the NAC circuit. Our proposal was included in the board’s agenda packet (pp. 7–10) for this meeting but was not discussed at the board meeting. I’m hoping for lots of comments to the “tc@usfencing.org” email address by the April 1 deadline.

Monday night was one of the better last-night dinners we’ve had in a while—there were 11 of us, both BC and Sports Medicine staff. One of the highlights was discovering that neither Molly, the trainer trainee, nor Carla had ever played Angry Birds. We fixed that.

Carla, bemused at clearing a level in Angry Birds.

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