May You Live in Interesting Times, Part 1

A great day for flying up to Portland—all too often, there's too much cloud cover for this view.

I expected this would be an interesting NAC—in every sense of that adjective!—and I was not disappointed in that expectation.

Even if there had been nothing else going on, I would have been disoriented for this NAC, just because I’m so used to needing to get up at 2:30 or 3:00 am to get to the airport in time for an early morning flight with at least one layover to get me to the venue early enough for setup. I always use the lack of real sleep and the time zone change to put myself into Tournament Time—that weird actual-time-doesn’t-matter state necessary for running national events. A lunch-time flight in my home time zone with no layover just doesn’t seem like a real fencing trip.

My daughter got the real fencing travel this time—she had a layover at O’Hare, and the hour her plane sat sitting through two gate changes before it could unload made her miss her connection. But she was first on the standby list for the next flight, so even with the delay, she still made it to Portland in plenty of time for dinner.

Setup for me was relatively painless—all the scoring boxes were set up in plenty of time to get the strip numbers up on Thursday, and everything—bulletin boards, copier, all our supplies—were in place fairly early on.

The process was a bit more involved on the computer side, because this was a momentous NAC for us: since the contract with Dan was signed last summer, FencingTime had met all the intermediate tests, so Portland would be the first national tournament where we would be running FencingTime. While we had XSeed available to open up as a backup if it turned out to be necessary, we would not be using it to shadow FencingTime in real time.

So the little netbooks we use for check-in had to have the new software installed, as did the tournament laptops, and Joe had to make sure the server was configured and the network set up properly. And, as always, Carla and Tanya had to find and correct problems with the event seeding, especially in the Division I events, with their more complicated seeding rules. All in all, though, considering the amount of work we had to do, our 7:00 pm setup finish time was pretty good, and we were as ready as we could expect to be for dealing with whatever glitches and bugs and workflow changes we’d face in the morning.

Of course, that morning would come awfully early—because of the new check-in process with FencingTime, we—Tanya, me, Joe, and the rest of the morning computer staff, would need to be at the venue by 6:50 am. So we arranged to meet for breakfast at 6:00, so we could catch the train early enough to be at the convention center in time.

BC Diary: Day 10

All packed up and checked out of the hotel on time. Just as I get to the platform, the MARTA train to the airport rolls into the station.

That turns out to be the best part of my travel day. United’s much vaunted mobile boarding pass elicits a beep and a flashing red light when I hold my phone over the TSA’s scanner, which reads it as an “invalid carrier.” The TSA guy says United’s electronic boarding passes never work here. But they let me in again at the scanner when I come back with a printed boarding pass, so I don’t have to zigzag through the whole line again.

Boarding is on time. I doze through the safety talk and am only vaguely aware of take-off, but then I never fall completely asleep because of a precocious four-year-old behind me with a voice like Margaret O’Brien’s in Meet Me in St. Louis, who narrates her complete stream-of-consciousness for the entire flight to Denver. She kicks, too.

In Denver I eat a leisurely lunch, and even manage to read a little. The flight to Sacramento is completely full, but at least there are no kicking children behind me this time.

At some point on the way home, it occurs to me that Tanya and I should have switched off as chair every two or three days—we might have held up better. When I email her this after I get home, she says she thought the same thing on the last day. We’re writing it down, so we remember for next time.

Stats:

  • Number of individual competitors: 69
  • Number of teams: 8
  • End time:  Around 1:00 pm, I’m told
  • Hours worked today: 0
  • BC hours cumulative total: 116–117

Not setting any alarm clocks for at least a week.

BC Diary: Day 9

Yup, back to running on pure willpower today. It’s hard not to be constantly aware of how tired I am. When Tanya and I made the BC staff schedule, I picked the Div 3 WF for myself for today because I thought it was only fair that I take one of the slowest events after my fun with saber the last couple of days.

Now that choice seems serendipitous—nothing will happen quickly or unexpectedly in Div 3 WF. Nothing complicated about the format, no flighting, no strip shortages—I can run this event in my sleep.

There’s a little bit of talk on the BC stage about the board meeting, and a certain level of disbelief at the return of repechage, but not a lot of energy invested in discussion. We don’t much like it, but we’re too tired for outrage at the moment.

While my 16 pools are out, I spend some time watching the trainers. It’s fun to watch them tape—some of them are absolute artists. They’ve been slammed throughout this SN with several relatively serious injuries along with a constant stream of more ordinary sprains and strains and aches and pains and requests for tape jobs and ice.

It’s not just the fencers, either. Quite a few referees are visiting the trainers, too, for taping and stretching out knotted muscles. Spending 8 or 10 days standing on concrete waving one’s arms around is hard on the feet, the ankles, the knees, the back, and the shoulders—and that doesn’t include the effects of stress encountered dealing with coaches and parents. April, the massage therapist, is working on a lot of referees, too, digging into those shoulder knots.

My WF plugs along, with me essentially on auto-pilot—I remember virtually nothing about it. Once it’s done, I realize that the strips that won’t be used tomorrow have already been stripped of their towers and machines, reels, and cords, ready for the crew that will come in to dismantle and pack them in their shipping crates tomorrow.

I help post tomorrow’s seeding—there’s only one small team event and the four Vet WE age levels, so the fencing will go quickly and the teardown can be completed during the afternoon.

We talk about whether we want to try a bout committee dinner, but nobody really has the energy. Many, like me, plan to pick up a meal to go from Ted’s, and eat alone in our quiet, quiet, quiet hotel rooms.

I say goodbye to everybody who’s still around and catch the next shuttle. Back at the hotel, I pack most of my stuff, toddle on down the block to Ted’s and get some bison pot roast to go, and bring it back to my room to eat. I watch a couple of episodes of The Closer on TNT, but fall asleep just as tonight’s new episode starts. I wake up an hour and a half later to turn off the TV and turn out the light.

Stats:

  • Number of individual competitors: 340
  • Number of teams: 22
  • End time:  No idea, but I left around 4:30 or so, I think
  • Hours worked today: 8 or 9
  • BC hours cumulative total: 116–117

Alarm’s set for 5:30—gotta catch a train so I can catch a plane!

BC Diary: Day 8

I’m slow to get moving this morning, but once I’m up I’m feeling slightly more human than I have for the past day or two. Maybe it’s the 6+ hours of sleep a couple nights in a row. Or maybe it’s the tuneless ditty running through my head this morning: “Two more days, only two more days . . .” (Those of us who sign up for all of SN are entitled to two days off; several of us on BC were assigned the last day as one of our days off.)

Today should be pure fun: another all-saber day for me. I like these because I come originally from a saber-only club, and I know more people in saber than in the other weapons. (I keep hoping that someday I’ll be able to see the other weapons better; about all I can do now is tell the difference between good foil and epee and bad foil and epee. But that would mean I’d need to actually watch more foil and epee, and who knows where or when that could ever happen?)

This morning, I have 120 fencers in the Div 2 MS closing at 8:oo and another 41 in the assorted age levels of the Vet WS, all closing at noon. (That means I’ll be playing with five colors of markers today to distinguish all my events.) Around 8:00 someone brings the sheets with the no-shows down from registration and each of us with an 8:00 event calls our missing fencers in turn. We still need to develop a standard procedure for marking those fencers on the list who show up at this point. When we had cards for each missing fencer, we just tore up their cards if they showed up, and the computer operator only withdrew the fencers for whom there were cards. With this new printed list, we still need to decide on consistent notation that everyone knows, so nobody gets confused and withdraws the wrong people. For now, we’re just doing a lot of explaining and confirming to each other.

Once I’ve called the no-shows and officially closed the event, my computer operator (Angie again today) gets to work withdrawing them, and then prints out a revised seeding list and the format sheet, which shows the number of fencers and pools, the promotion percentage, and the number of fencers promoted to the DEs. I make copies to post and hand them off to the runners, who this morning at least, are managing to consolidate their runs, taking the new seeding lists from all the 8:00 events at the same time. It’s nice when the timing works out that way every once in a while.

We’ve discovered a new trick this year, too: “Check to make sure you’re on the list” is far more effective than “Check that your seeding information is correct” in getting fencers to actually look at the seeding lists.

Not much delay getting the pool assignments from Angie, so there must not have been many conflicts to resolve. Usually in saber, it’s the Div I or Jr events where conflicts get complicated, because so many of the protected fencers (top 32 or 24, respectively) are from the same clubs. Generally, if the software can’t resolve the conflicts, we’ll (mostly the computer operators) work at it for 20 minutes or so; if it takes longer than that, there’s not usually a solution. (Angie has occasionally been known to keep working on such puzzles after we send out the pools, just as a form of recreation, but as far as I know, she’s never found a solution that’s taken longer than the informal 20-minute limit we try to stick to.)

While Angie’s printing the pool assignments, I announce that the revised seeding has been posted and get my strip assignments from Tanya. Then I write them on the seeded pool list that goes to the referee assigner, so she can start assigning referees while I write the strips on the randomized pool lists, copy them, and send them out to be posted. Then I sit down and write the strip numbers on the individual pool sheets and wait for the referee assignments and for the runners to finish posting to announce that the pools are up. We don’t like to get them trampled by fencers before they can make their escape from the bulletin boards.

My 18 pools of Div 2 MS were planned to be partially flighted, with a first flight of 12 pools. But there are also several foil events going on today, and there’s a bit of horse-trading going on among the assigners for referees. We end up with even flights for my event, with the second flight being sent out as the first flight pools come in. Arianna, a believer in “blind” assigning, tells me to show any referee who returns a pool sheet the next one ready to go out and ask whether there are any conflicts; if not, sent them out together. As the second flight pools are assigned, I announce the pool and strip number, and add them to the sign on the bout committee table. By the time we have time to go add the second flight strip numbers to the bulletin boards, everyone’s already at their strips and fencing, so we don’t usually bother.

As the second flight pools come in, we tell the referees to go eat lunch. They’ll have about 20 minutes while we turn the event around. We may even hold the start of the DEs for a few minutes longer to give them a little more time. Arianna’s already selected the saber referees she wants to use for the Vet WS events to come, and they were told earlier they had a couple of free hours during which they should be sure to eat lunch.

We’re still short of referees for everything happening today, so my MS DEs will be on 4 strips instead of the 12 originally planned. Angie prints out the round results, I draw the line separating the ups and outs, copy them and send them out with the runners. We try to post the round results and the tableaux separately to give fencers time to check the round results for errors—we seriously want to correct any that may have occurred before we send everybody out to their strips. We rarely have errors at this stage any longer—occasionally fencers will come running, but usually they’ve misread the round results or misremembered their pool results.

Anyway, while the round results are being posted, I get the tableaux from Angie, give one to Arianna and copy and tape the other for posting (and send it out with the runners). Meanwhile, Angie has printed the DE bout slips and is coloring, slicing, and sorting them for me. The slicing and dicing used to be done by the table side, but we switched a few years ago to having the computer operators do it, which gets everything done a little sooner. (The computer operators are much better at remembering to color the slips, too, than I am, since they usually need those colors more.)

I sit down at the table and lay out the four pages of my tableau, putting another copy on top of the one I will keep. When Angie brings me the A bouts—the first round DE slips—I set them on top of the page they belong to. Then I put any complete B bouts at the bottom of each page’s stack of slips, and slide the incomplete Bs under the top tableau—those will be staying at the table with me for the time being. Once Arianna gives me the referee assignments, I call the referees, give each group the copy of their page of the tableau and their bout slips, and send them out.

Soon my phone rings. It’s Brad Baker, one of the referees I’ve just sent out. “Uh, we’re all here standing on strips 7–10 ready to go and it looks like all the fencers are over there on strips 1–4.”

I look at my sheets, the ones that I copied for posting. Sure enough, they say 1–4. Instead of copying the strip numbers, I’ve copied the page numbers. It’s the most public and least damaging mistake I’ve made this tournament. I grab the mike and explain the error; it’s kind of fun watching all the saber fencers with their gear parade across the room to the right place.

While the first few bouts get underway, I return to my tableau. I need to number all the bouts—As are 1–64, Bs are 1–32, Cs are 1–16. XSeed numbers the bout slips but not the tableau; numbering makes it easier to find the right place on the tableau when fencers start bringing bout slips back. XSeed also puts page numbers and quadrant numbers on the bout slips, but they only give you the general area you’re looking for; bout numbers in each bracket give you the exact spot, and make it easier to be sure that you’re writing fencers’ names on the right slips for their next bouts.

Redundancy is a huge benefit here. I’ll use page numbers, quadrant numbers, bout numbers, bracket numbers—whatever tools there are to make sure we’re sending fencers out to the right places to fence. It’s especially important with all the duplicate and similar surnames and siblings we have fencing in the same events to make sure we’re tracking the individual fencer numbers, too.

As the MS DEs start to come in, it’s time for the Vet WS events to get started. With the original plan, the men’s DEs should have been down to their final 8 by the time the women’s events started, but now I’ll be running five events all at once. Fortunately, the vet events are all small: two pools each in Vet 40 and Vet 50, a pool of 9 in the Vet 60, and one of 5 in the 70+. None will have more than a single page for their DE tableau, so it’ll be manageable. But even I, whose marker of choice is “none,” am remembering to color the sheets today. By the time the women’s pools are done and their DE bouts start to come in, color is the first thing I look for.

Gradually, the DE tables work down to their gold medal bouts, which are sent in turn to the finals strip, and I let Tanya know all my strips are free. I’m done with the fencing portion of the day. Even the last event of the day is done by 8:30, only an hour past the official projection. (This is within the range of what we consider “normal”—foil and epee usually run 30–60 minutes behind and saber 30-45 minutes ahead of the projections. We could adjust the bout durations to compensate, but we’re familiar enough with the variance that we haven’t yet bothered.)

But there’s still tonight’s board meeting, set to start after the conclusion of today’s fencing. I’ve been wavering all day on whether to go, but now I’m feeling pretty good. I help with posting the seeding for tomorrow’s events, get myself a remarkably salty pulled pork sandwich from the concession stand, and refill my water bottle—it’ll probably be a long meeting.

* * *

My main concern at the board meeting is repechage. I spent the weekend before SN at a meeting in Colorado Springs working on the NAC schedules for this season. If repechage is coming back for one or more of the point weapons, several of those schedules will need to be completely redone.

The executive committee voted on July 8 to return repechage from the round of 32 to all cadet, junior, and senior NAC events for the 2010-2011 season. Since actions taken by the EC between board meetings must be accepted by the board at its next meeting, there is a move afoot to separate this item out from the rest of the EC actions for separate discussion, in hopes that the board will not affirm the decision.

The separation is successful, and there is some lively discussion. Laurie Schiller, Matt Cox, and Aaron Clements, among others, make a valiant effort. I especially like Aaron’s remarks—that something which so drastically affects tournament operations and scheduling should be supported by more evidence than just “the national epee coaches believe it’s needed.” Matt reiterates that the Tournament Committee (he’s chair) does not have the resources to run both repechage and teams at NACs, and repechage alone would severely stretch and stress the resources.

As it is, without either teams or repechage, some of the schedules we’re looking at for this coming season already have SN-like numbers and hours. It will not be a simple task to put repechage back–in epee, the double-elimination from the round of 32 adds between two and three hours to the length of the event. For tournaments like the January NAC, where the event will be large and long already (remember, cadet events are being added to the Div I and Jr usually held in January), we will probably be pushing the midnight rule again, just like we were Tuesday and Wednesday nights here in Atlanta.

The argument in favor of restoring repechage for epee is essentially “we need to defer to the expertise of our national coaches,” and ultimately, that’s the way the board votes.

It looks like I shall be spending time over the next few weeks looking at the tentative schedules and trying to come up with ideas for making them work. And I’ll have to decide whether I want to make myself available for any of the NACs which are to include rep—I hate working tournaments that make me feel a sense of impending doom.

Various other officer and committee reports are accepted, and about an hour into the proceedings, the board votes to move one of the new business items up: we take a break for cake to celebrate Dan Berke’s and Mark Stasinos’ birthdays. I find this irritating; though I’m a fan of food at long meetings, it seems way too early to take a break when the meeting is expected to run so long. However, despite my annoyance, I eat cake.

Eventually the meeting resumes. The board elects its new members according to the new bylaws (many of the existing members, such as the section reps, lose their positions and this is their last meeting). [The elections may have taken place before the cake break—I no longer remember.]

Increasing the promotion rates in Vet events is voted down. George Masin’s complex team proposal is voted down. The modification of the rules of fencing to accord with the latest FIE changes is approved.

As the discussions continue, I wonder why I’m still sitting here. Mostly, I think, it’s inertia, plus a sort of hypnotized fascination: how long can they make the discussions of each motion last? But then I remember I’m running Div III WF in the morning; I can always doze while its pools are out.

There is a very long discussion of two motions regarding the SYC selection process for this year, but no good explanation for why they were needed. Apparently there were irregularities perceived by some, but those of us who know nothing of the selection process—including many board members—can’t tell what the issue is from the rationale (or lack of) presented. Eventually, both fail.

Dan Berke’s motion to add a $25 surcharge to tournament entry fees to help pay off the debt to officials fails for lack of a second.

And that—at nearly 1:30—is the end.

Then people begin to realize that the officials’ shuttle has long ceased its runs and there is a flurry of calls for taxis. Beth Bell and I decide walking back to the hotel will be faster than waiting for cabs to get there (not to mention that half the walk is just getting out of the building). Downtown is very quiet—there are only a few cars around, mostly taxis heading for the GWCC.

In bed by 2:00 am.

Stats:

  • Number of individual competitors: 640
  • Number of teams: 38
  • End time: 8:30 pm
  • Hours worked today: 13, plus another 4+ hours at the board meeting (just to confirm my lunacy)
  • BC hours cumulative total: 106

Alarm’s set for 6:00 am.