Voodoo & Vroom?

The 2013–2014 USA Fencing season has been a tough one for me.

It’s not that this year’s NACs have been anything out of the ordinary. They’ve run reasonably well, with most days finishing at or earlier than the projected times (though. as always, there were a few exceptions). I worked the October, November, and January NACs as BC chair, and was surprised to discover how much more like Summer Nationals this season’s NACs felt compared to previous years. I’m not sure if it’s the entry numbers, the general stress, worry about how the rest of the season will go, or just that I’m getting old, but this season’s NACs have pretty well wiped me out for the rest of the week by the time I get home.

So I was looking forward to working as a mere minion for this year’s JOs in Portland, especially since there were board working sessions and a formal board meeting attached. It would be nice, I thought, just to run events without being responsible for fitting events onto the available strips at the right times or dealing with testy coaches or over-involved parents.

And it was nice. It was fun getting a chance to chat with the fencers in the events I was running, and catch up with BC and other staff, and not need to keep one eye continually focused on the overall tournament. Practically relaxing, compared to a BC chair gig.

(Of course, there were a lot of meeting-related discussions going on all weekend, building consensus for proposals coming before the board, but that’ll be for a separate post.)

Part of the fun of this tournament, though, was because it was the Junior Olympic Championships and it was in Portland. Getting to Portland is always a bit strange for me, because it’s a short trip with no layover in my home time zone. Normally, this leaves me somewhat disoriented through the weekend without the all-day travel itinerary. But my early-morning flight, unusual for the Portland trip, left me groggy enough that I made a successful transition through the Tournament Time wormhole. Or maybe it was just spending most of the day after my arrival watching the referee numbers as we received updates on their travel woes—at one point Thursday, 29 of the 69 hired referees were affected by flight delays or cancellations, so we were doing lots of contingency planning for running events with only half the planned referees. In the end, only about 11 referees didn’t make it to Portland in time for the Friday morning start, though we heard some interesting travel sagas. (One example: Brandon, our BC chair, had his original 6-hour itinerary turn into an 18-hour trek, getting loaded and unloaded three separate times onto the same plane—including once when they were completely unable to detach the pushback cart—before its final departure from O’Hare.)

That this was JOs made it fun because it was was a championship, which meant that we once again had Larry and Dwayne, from Socket Events, to help run the show-and-tell parts of the tournament. In addition to helping with setup (not least with an awesome playlist on setup day), they handle the gold medal bouts on the finals strip. Because JOs is a championship, we had a formal spectator area for the finals strip, which made those late last bouts in the evenings far less depressing than they normally are. (Usually they remind me of that old Dick Van Dyke Show Christmas episode, where Van Dyke quips (in a Bela Lugosi voice) that working alone late at night is like “being the last living cell in a dead body”—a sad state for a national championship bout.) It’s about time we treated our championship bouts like championships.

We had an unexpected vendor booth at JOs, too. Kirsten Crouse (she’s our current Parent Director member of the USA Fencing board) put in a lot of hours working with Mark Lawrence, USA Fencing’s new Strategic Marketing Consultant, to bring in Tesla Motors:

The Tesla people had a second car outside the convention center, so people could take test drives, and the car inside attracted steady attention throughout the tournament. Kirsten told us at the board meeting that the Tesla reps said they had 4 Tesla owners drop by to chat, so it appears that our demographics are a indeed a good match for them. Pairing an emerging sport like us with an emerging manufacturer like them seems like a good basis for a potential long-term sponsorship relationship. I hope we’ll see them at future tournaments, too.

There are fun details being in Portland, too. The Trimet light rail lines make it easy to get around for dinner after the fencing is over (for me, only two of the five nights I was in town), the Foucault pendulum in the lobby is always mildly hypnotic, and lots of visitors took the trouble to acquire stashes of Voodoo doughnuts:

And I can’t neglect the carpet samples:

I just wish I could decide whether the cold I brought home is a new one or just a relapse of the one I brought home in January.

Catching Up on JOs

A strange Junior Olympics indeed.

Historically, JOs has been an easy and pleasant tournament from the BC point of view. The events are big, but until the Junior Team events were added, there were only three events per day—not a tough tournament to manage at all. Even with teams, it’s not a complicated event to run.

This year, though, we seem to have passed a tipping point: the events weren’t just large—they were huge, and came with the accompaniment of large numbers of testy spectators. (For purposes of this discussion, you may assume “spectators” = “parents + coaches,” with the emphasis on the former.) More on the atmosphere at JOs (or at least a specific aspect of it) in a day or two.

Otherwise, I’m choosing—mostly for my own sanity—to blog only the scenic parts of the trip to Baltimore.

More often than not, my flights leave at 6:00 or 6:30 am, which means I get to get up at 2:30 or so to get to the airport in time.  (This assumes I bother to go to bed in the first place—I’m a night owl and often don’t get to bed until 1:00 or 1:30 am, anyway, so going to bed to get up in an hour or two often seems silly.) Once I get to the airport, I wait around for Peet’s to open at 5:00 am, get my mocha, and keep myself awake until boarding, after which I spend most of the flight sleeping. Though I usually choose a window seat, there’s often not much to see, because the view mostly looks like this:

laxbwi 10

or this:

laxbwi9

But I’ve been lucky with my plane travel this season. Either I’ve flown in a day early for setup or I’ve not had to arrive before the eve of the tournament, so I’ve been able to leave home after sunrise. Not only have I been traveling during daylight, but the weather has been spectacular, justifying those window seats.

To Baltimore, there was first a short hop to LAX:

From LAX, there was desert and Rockies and plains (and then it got dark, but I prefer the western geography, anyway):

I suppose it was only to be expected that after a day staring at wide open spaces, I’d be so startled by the optically distracting hotel hallway—I was half-convinced it was all an illusion with mirrors:

hallwayI was tickled, though, to learn that my 15th-floor room overlooked Camden Yards. I looked forward to seeing a great view of the ballpark when I got up the next morning. Then, of course, I remembered—I was working a tournament and getting up at 5:30 am for breakfast at 6:00. It would be dark when I left. And we expected late nights every night, so it would be dark again by the time I got back to the hotel. I checked every night, just in case the park lights needed to be tested or something, but this was the view every night and morning:

camden1

But then I remembered—I’d changed my return flight in order to be able to attend the Tuesday morning board meeting. Not only could I sleep in an hour or two, but I’d finally have my daylight view of Camden Yards—barely:

Finally—inevitably—I offer the Baltimore carpet collection:

Random Thoughts From JOs

I always have mixed feeling about the Junior Olympics. Neither daughter ever particularly enjoyed fencing at JOs when they were competing—somehow JOs was always more stressful and less fun than any other national tournament.

On the other hand, it’s an easy tournament to work—the events are large, but there aren’t that many each day. On the other other hand, there’s always the board meeting at JOs, which this year met both Saturday and Sunday evenings. By the time the board finished its last agenda item at 11:35 Sunday night, I was the only spectator left. (I’m told that the executive session that followed lasted another hour or so after that.)

• Fencing Time is coming along, and we’re getting used to it. I’ve become accustomed enough to using the Bout ID to find bouts in the tables now that I don’t need the bracket/bout number combination I used to rely on in XSeed. (But it’s still nice having lots of options for finding things.

• We discovered that the framing of the ad section on the fencing results website took over the entire screen on iOS and some other mobile devices when zoomed. (That’s now been fixed.)

• I was disappointed I wasn’t able to get to Squatters or one of the other brewpubs in Salt Lake. In the pre-Winter Olympics days decades ago when I lived in Utah, one could not buy alcohol easily in restaurants and I was looking forward to seeing more cosmopolitan dining. But between attending the board meeting sessions and working my events, I wasn’t able to get out much for evening meals. Oh, well–maybe next time.

• The Salt Palace turned out to be a smaller variation on the Georgia World Congress Center–a short walk from the hotel, followed by a long, long walk inside to get to the farthest possible hall at the other end of the building. But the walk back and forth inspired me to begin a collection I’ve considered starting for years—Convention Center Carpet Patterns:

                    

             

For years I’ve marveled at the complicated multicolored carpet patterns to be found in public spaces. I assume the garish mix of colors and abstract designs are meant to minimize the visibility of debris and deterioration, and I’m always curious how such patterns would look in smaller spaces. None are anything I’d like to see in a residential eating space, that’s for sure.

Can’t wait to see what new visions in carpet await in Cincinnati.

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.