Tag Archives: board election

Fencing Wish List: Intro & Finance

In the Election Candidates thread over on fencing.net, several board candidates have responded to a question about what three things USA Fencing has done right and what three things they’ve done wrong over the past year. I’ve no lack of opinions but I find myself a bit put off by the form of the question—one of our continuing habits organizationally is to resort to the quick fix to handle a specific issue without addressing the more fundamental problems that create all those specific little issues in the first place. Making that quick list seems too much like the short-term mindset we’ve been falling back on for so many years.

Having said that, of course, I can refer you to my candidate info sheet, which contains a list of the four—that’s four, not just three (and five is right out!)— areas I think USA Fencing needs to address:

These are not so much separate items, though, as different aspects of one gigantic puzzle. With the exception of the fourth item, which may well happen on its own as the other three are addressed (though I think there is much we can do deliberately in that direction as well), you make any major changes in one area and the others will be drastically affected.

So while I’m going to address each of these areas in separate posts, there will inevitably be some redundancy among them, because so much is so interrelated and interdependent.

Let’s start with the money:

Get our finances under control.

The USFA is in much better shape financially than I would have thought possible a year or more ago. Financial reports are more frequent, more understandable, and based on what I know of my own corner of the organization, more reliable. We’ve got a real finance director (and with Keri Byerts, one who knows  fencing!) and control processes now that are actually being used. But if I had to choose a single step that’s made a huge impact on both our finances and the attitude with which the board and staff approach our finances, it would be Sam Cheris’s approach to budget variances, which should not have had to be an innovation: any increased amount in one area must be offset by a decreased amount somewhere else.

Assuming we continue on the same track (not necessarily a safe assumption given our recent history), we should be operating on a stable financial basis within a year or two. But we need to be sure—since we are now in a world where we’re fielding complete teams instead of just a few athletes in a couple of weapons—that we plan our Olympic quadrennials carefully, so that we can fund our athletes properly for each Games and not dig ourselves into a Olympic-size financial hole as we have for the past few quads.

A financially stable NGB with a demonstrated ability to manage its spending becomes a much better target for grants and donations and sponsorships. I hope we continue the work we need to do to get there.

In a sense, our recent financial woes were caused by our success—and our failure to think about what that success means for the future. For too long we’ve focused on our year-to-year finances, or at best, a quad’s worth of budgeting. But think about our growth—while our competition entries have more than doubled in the last 15 years, we haven’t developed new referees or other officials at anywhere near the same rate. And what about coaches? The old Coaches College, the USFCA, and Michael Marx among them have provided some useful training to those already coaching, but they haven’t done much to increase the number of new coaches entering the sport.

Individual entries for SN in Columbus will be well over 7,000, even allowing for withdrawals and no-shows, and it’s entirely possible that entries for next year’s SN will be over 8,000 if we don’t change our tournament structure. We’ve already got a virtually inflexible schedule, with unavoidable conflicts in some weapons; if we wanted to bring Division I, either a NAC or the championship, back to SN, we’d have to either add days or drop other events. There’s not much that we can do with those numbers, aside from shaving a couple of minutes here and there by tweaking procedures.

Over the past two or three quads, as I and my predecessors warned of the consequences of our growth, a countervailing attitude was always that we shouldn’t worry—we should encourage more growth, because more members and more entries mean more revenue, and the more revenue the better. So now we’re locked into a revenue model under which our events are becoming more and more unmanageable while we need the income they generate. Our ability to manage tournaments in the best interests of our athletes is being seriously compromised by our revenue needs.

This cannot continue indefinitely. (I currently think the odds of our being able to create a workable schedule for the 2014 SN or to staff it once we have a schedule are no better than even.) What will we want USFA to be able to do in a decade or two, when our membership is 40,000 or 60,000? Will we still be running NACs? Championships only? Will we have spun off tournament operations to regional affiliates in order to focus on coaching education and  club development? Whatever we decide has implications for our revenue model, because we need to be able to fund whatever we decide we need to do.

More on these possibilities in my next few posts.

Next up: Governance


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By the Way, There’s This Election . . .

USA Fencing is once again electing members for its Board of Directors. We’re choosing two At-Large Directors from among five candidates, one Club Director from among two candidates, and one Volunteer Staff Director from among three candidates, which is the category I’m running in.

I hadn’t planned to run for the board at all, except that the email soliciting nominations happened to arrive at a time when I’d been more than usually frustrated following a board meeting. As Tournament Committee Chair, I don’t miss many board meetings, whether they’re in person or by conference call, and I often text with both board members and a few of my fellow spectators/auditors during those meetings. I realized, though, when I read that Nominating Committee email asking for potential candidates, that I often had points to make that weren’t being made by current board members, and that my perspective as a long-time national bout committee volunteer could be valuable.

So I updated my resume, wrote my cover letter, and sent them in. When the Nominating Committee declined to select me as one of their nominees for the Volunteer Staff slot, I collected a few pages of signatures and qualified by petition as a nominee. (One of my opponents signed my petition; the other declined but said he would have if I’d been running for one of the other board slots. I’d have done the same for them—we’re amicable rivals.)

If you’ve been reading my blog for even just a few months, you’ve got a good idea of my views. And I’ll be writing more off and on over the next few weeks. If you’d like a quick summary, or something you can print as a handout for others, here’s my candidate flyer. If you’ve got specific comments or questions for me, I’m including a contact form at the bottom of this post.

You can find information about the election and the rest of the candidates on the USA Fencing Election page here.

Voting will be conducted online from May 23 through June 10.

I’d appreciate your vote.

firstname sig

If you’ve got questions or comments for me, you can contact me privately via this contact form; otherwise, use the normal public comment field (moderated):


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Didn’t Need the Hat Anyway

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


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