On Learning to Be an Appropriate Spectator

I’m preparing the beginnings of a bunch of posts in my continuing quest to properly blog Summer Nationals as it happens, but a guest post over at Damien Lehfeldt’s The Fencing Coach blog triggered this impromptu post today, in hopes that it might help keep our count of spectator black cards low in Columbus.

There are actually two relevant guest posts over there.  “A Parent’s Journey to Becoming a Good Fencing Parent,” from about 18 months ago, is a great discussion of the importance for parents (and coaches, too, who are also technically spectators) to learn and act on what their kids need from them instead of what they need from their kids. Essentially, it’s what good spectators—parents and coaches—look like.

Today’s guest post —”A Diary of a Black Card“—shows what it looks like when a spectator, in this case a parent, gets it spectacularly wrong:

. . . over the weekend, I was that parent, the one who couldn’t let a bad call go, who verbally abused the bout director, the tournament director, the other team and its coach. Am I sorry and embarrassed? Yes. Is there a part of me still raging, a part that wants to argue the issue to death? Oh, yeah. But there’s nothing left to argue about: the decision on the strip was final, and out of several hundred fencers and “spectators” at yesterday’s Pomme de Terre, I was the only who displayed anything even remotely resembling poor sportsmanship.  There can be no defending the way I acted.

Don’t be this dad. Learn from him.

BC Diary: NAC A, Day 0

My flights into Cincinnati were completely uneventful and the scheduled shuttle (provided for officials by the local sports commission) was there to pick me up, so I checked in and dropped off my bag at the hotel and got over to the venue by 4:30 or so.

Why e-readers are good to have in armory lines. (Photo - Delia Turner)

The hotel is connected to the venue by a skybridge, so getting there in the morning will be easy—no need to worry about shuttles or light rail.

The hall is long and narrow, so we just have one straight run of 4-pods this time, with the BC stage and the trainers roughly in the middle of the room. The armory is behind the BC stage, and there’s a long line, nearly to the end wall, of fencers waiting to have their gear checked.

Unusually, all the strips are laid, but there are no scoring tables, so no towers or boxes or reels or cables set up yet. That means there’s not much for the armorers to do until the tables are here, so most of them are working gear check for now.

Tanya is already here, of course (she came in yesterday), as are Joe and Marc, two-thirds of our three-person computer staff, and Carla, as ever, is working on the seeding for this weekend’s events.

The layout, for once, is unchanged from the map I’d already been sent. For this tournament I’m going to try numbering the strips alphanumerically—each pod will be labeled with a letter and the strips within each pod will be labeled 1 through 4. I think this will be easier for me to work with for strip assignments, and both the armorers and the trainers seem to like the idea, too—they expect it will make it quicker for them to head in the right direction on strip calls.. I don’t think it will confuse the fencers too much, so we’ll see how it works. (A couple of people express some skepticism about using an idea I got from fencing.net, but it’s not the first useful idea I’ve picked up there.)

While I’m labeling my venue map and making copies, the scoring tables finally start showing up.They’re still not covered and skirted, though, so the armorers are still waiting to be able to set up the scoring machines, though they’re distributing reels and cords and towers around the room.

At 6:00 pm, the entry doors are shut—the armorers will finish checking gear for those who are already in line, but that’ll be it for tonight, aside from the people who sneak in while others are leaving. At 7:oo pm, we shut the entry doors again. Since we can’t put up the strip numbers until the scoring machines are set up, I turn on my computer and work on the strip assignments for tomorrow morning. That doesn’t take long—with just two events, Div I Men’s Foil and Div II Women’s Epee, first thing in the morning, everything else will depend on when they finish their pools, so I’ll wait to do the later events until tomorrow.

On what will be my F pod, the first of four video replay systems is being set up. Nobody’s quite sure how this will work: the idea is to use replay from the round of 8 for at least the Div I events, but there are only four sets. If we put one on the finals strip, that leaves only three for the F pod. But we’re not even sure yet whether there will be anyone to run the replay systems—the FOC was not informed of them in time to hire the extra bodies needed to use them, and nobody’s been trained on this equipment. Makes my little strip numbering experiment look pretty trivial.

Kathy Brown, the head armorer, decides that they can’t wait for the table covers any longer but will go ahead and start setting up the machines. As it turns out, just as the armorers start, the venue crew appears with their supply of table cloths, so only one scoring table ends up without a cover. We ask them to leave the BC tables without covers, too—these tables have reasonably good plastic surfaces instead of the chipped and splintered wooden surfaces often found in convention centers, so we won’t have to deal with wrinkles and any spills will be easier to clean up.

Oops, there’s one table with a curvature twice that allowed in sabres. Turns out it’s cracked, so we call for a replacement.

Tanya and I ask Kathy if there’s anything we can do to help, since there’s not much we can do until the machines are set up, and she gives us a lesson in machine setup: unpacking the scoring boxes and power supplies and cords, attaching the boxes to the towers with cable ties, trimming the tie ends, attaching the floor cords to the boxes, stashing the machine boxes under the tables, etc.

Tanya gets called away to handle something or other, so Gerrie Baumgart and I end up hanging a couple of pods’ worth of scoring machines on their towers. By then I’m out of cable ties (and I trust the armorers more to do things right, anyway), so I turn in my snips and return to more familiar chores. I leave copies of the map for the head referees,  drop off copies for the armorers and the trainers, and start putting up strip numbers on the half of the room that now has finished towers. But before I finish, the rest of the gang announces they’re heading out for dinner, so I grab my computer and join them. We’ll come over early tomorrow and finish up.

Since it’s after 9:00 pm, we go directly to the restaurant (a Rock Bottom Brewery, home to much BC comfort food—and drink). My immediate—and not unreasonable—goal for this tournament is to finish early enough to eat at least one more evening meal in a place where we get to sit and have food brought to us at our table.

As we walk back to the hotel, we notice that The Colbert Report is on the downtown Jumbotron. Pretty cool, Cincinnati.

To bed by 12:30, after ironing clothes for tomorrow, but I’m still awake when my roommate, whose flight was delayed, shows up at 2:00 am. Oh, well, that’s still only midnight my time, and I dozed a lot on the planes coming in.

Alarm’s set for 5:30 am.

Layout & Strips, Part 4: Pools

From here on, I’m going to be talking mainly about national tournaments, which are different from any other category. Even large sectional championships or regional tournaments like Duel in the Desert or Pomme de Terre have a completely different feel from NACs and SNs. Mostly it’s a matter of scale: the quantitative differences—more days, more entries, more square footage—are big enough to make real qualitative differences. While the general principles are the same for local and regional tournaments, their application varies with the specific venues, events, and entry fields.

So to pools. At national tournaments, the pools for most event categories are maximized to 7. This means that pools always consist of 6 or 7 fencers, except where the number of entries makes that impossible, such as a field of 15, where 3 pools of 5 are allowed, or a field of 9, which is usually run as a single pool on 2 strips. A few categories, such as Veterans, allow pools of 5, 6, or 7, in which case the bout committee may opt to use all pools of 5 and 6 instead of 6 and 7, but more on that later. In any case, the pools should be as evenly divided as possible, and there should never be more than two sizes of pools (except occasionally where an injury or expulsion knocks someone out of one of the smaller pools—always a frustrating occurrence).

Let’s say for our theoretical tournament that we have 40 strips, laid out in 10 pods of 4 strips each, with men’s epee, with 197 entries, and men’s saber, with 93 entries, closing at 8:00 am, and a women’s foil event with 112 entries closing at 10:30 am. We’ll keep it simple—80% promotion rate, no repechage. (I’m saving repechage for a later post.)

Our 197 ME entries give us 23 pools of 7 and 6 pools of 6. We could just put these 23 pools in order on strips 1 through 23, but that would mean that all the pools of 6 would be grouped together. Once they finished, there would still be those other 23 pools working through their bouts, and only a few of them would have one of the now-empty strips from the 6s close enough to use to double-strip.

We could assign the ME pools three to a pod, and put saber pools on the fourth strip in each pod. Since the saber pool will only take about half as long as the epee pools, that fourth strip could be used for epee bouts once the saber is out of the way. But wait, there are only 10 pods, which means that there wouldn’t be enough strips that way for the 14 MS pools (9 of 7 and 5 of 6) that we’ve got—we still need to get 4 more saber pools out. So the MS will have to be flighted.

But what if both flights of saber finish before the epee pools are done? That would mean we’d have to assign the DE bouts for the saber to strips scattered all over the room instead of to adjacent strips, or we’d need to hold the start of the MS DEs until enough adjacent epee pools have finished to give us the 2 pods we’ll need for the saber. Neither of those options is likely to make the saber people happy, especially since they’re already flighted as it is.

Ideally, what we like to do as much as we can, is put pools out on the same strips that each event will use for their DEs. So we’ll put out 7 or 8 pools of the MS on 2 adjacent pods, probably at one end of the room, and the MS will simply stay there on those 8 strips for their DEs, too. With even or almost-even flights like this, it’s not usually worth trying to place 6s next to 7s so the 7s can double-strip when the 6s are done, and since saber runs so relatively quickly, it wouldn’t save all that much time anyway.

(While I like to run events efficiently, I’ve never seen much point to rushing everybody just for the sake of going as fast as we can. On a relatively simple day like this theoretical day, there’s no real need to rush the saber—rushing it would not make the overall day any shorter and there is no other event waiting to use the same strips.)

With the saber pools out on 2 pods, that leaves 8 pods for the ME pools. We could arrange those pools so that 6 of the 8 pods each had one pool of 6, so that once the 6s were done, the extra strip in each pod could be used to help speed up the remaining 3 pools of 7.  We’d then have 3 pools of 7  and 1 empty strip on one of the last 2 pods, and 2 pools of 7 and 2 empty strips on the other. If we’re lucky, the slowest epee pools will occur in the pods with empty strips, but that hardly ever happens. More likely, 2 or 3 pools at opposite ends of the building will be the last to finish, as much as half an hour or 45 minutes after the first pools finished.

In any case, with this arrangement, the MS will be able to start their DEs as soon as they finish their pools—they won’t need to wait for any of the epee to be out of the way. And once all the ME pools are done, their DEs will be put out on 16 strips, and the remaining 16 strips will be turned over to those 16 pools of 7 in WF who’ve been waiting for the ME to finally be out of their way so they can get started.

But we’ll save that for next time.