Ooof. Hearing today that Gerrie Baumgart died is a tough one to wrap my brain around.

I first became aware of Gerrie Baumgart during the 1999 Summer Nationals in Charlotte, when my older daughter, competing in her first national tournament, signed a pool sheet that showed her winning one bout fewer than she’d actually won. Gerrie was the person who met Kate and her coach at the bottom of the stairs to the BC stage (like all good fencing parents, I was across the room, though paying close parental attention) to explain that verifying that her scores were correct was part of what Kate had done when she signed her scoresheet and that the scores would stand as entered. Gerrie was nice about it, even sympathetic, explaining that this was something most young fencers did once and only once, but Gerrie was clearly not someone who would be moved by piteous looks from fencers or rants by angry coaches.

When I began working as a bout committee trainee the following year, Gerrie was even more intimidating. She understood that some of us were new and just learning the ins and outs of running events, but she also expected us to pay attention and learn quickly. Making a mistake was regrettable but forgivable, as long as any regret didn’t interfere with the smooth running of the tournament and was not repeated. Repeated errors were likely to earn the offender one of Gerrie’s ferocious but discreet little chats in an out-of-the-way corner.

Gerrie was almost always head referee at the March NACs, back when they were the Division II/III/Veteran combination and always the tournament that brand new half-trained bout committee chairs—including me—were handed. I may have been terrified of Gerrie but I recognized immediately how much she could—and did—teach me about running strips, handling complaints and protests, and managing my crew. More than anything else, she taught me how to think not just two or three rounds ahead, but through the entire day, to make sure I knew when bottlenecks could occur and to assign strips to allow for possible double-stripping or other impromptu rearrangements as conditions changed throughout the day.

Mostly, though, Gerrie was a referee, and a developer of new referees. One of the most fun talks I ever had with her (after five or six years, I wasn’t scared of her anymore, and she seemed to think I’d become acceptably competent) was when I was writing this article about referees for American Fencing. She had great stories to tell from her decades fencing and refereeing—more than I could use—and we laughed a lot. With fencing daughters, including one who herself became a referee, I especially appreciated her stories about becoming one of the earliest women referees with an international license.

Baumgart says attending an engineering school for college got her used to bias against women. She wasn’t happy with it, but it wasn’t so unexpected to find it in fencing, too. “But I’m competitive and wanted to be better than I was, so I worked at it.”

“Ralph Zimmerman was good at seeking out younger referees and taking chances on them,” she says. “Women were chancy assignments. He asked me if I was willing to do whatever I was asked to get to the Olympic Games. I said yes.”

It turned out to be a huge commitment. She worked 17 world cups in about a year and a half to build her reputation as a suitable selection. But in 1996 in Atlanta, she became the first American woman to referee at the Olympic Games.

Occasionally—and considerably more than occasionally in recent years, at least when we were done in time—Gerrie would join the BC gang for dinner. Especially on the last night of a tournament, she liked a good steak, often followed by an Irish coffee—and stories and laughter and more stories and more laughter.

The last couple of years were pretty rough on Gerrie, with the death of her husband, along with her declining health. Though it might have been better for her, she wasn’t the type to abdicate what she viewed as her responsibilities to the fencing community. I hope that same fencing community recognizes how much Gerrie Baumgart gave us.


The Long Goodbye?

I’m submerged in my manuscript again. If I hadn’t been attending Left Coast Crime mystery conventions for the past few years, I’d be more upset that I missed my Tax Day deadline to finish my book, but it turns out that it’s not uncommon for mystery writers to discover their murderer changing on them. Since somebody unexpected turns out to have dunnit (not the butler, though—there is no butler), I have to go back to the beginning to make sure everything else makes sense this new way, too. It’ll definitely be a better book now, but I’m not predicting any completion date yet.

In the meantime, I’m also finishing up with various odds and ends with USA Fencing over the last few months of my board term. My decision not to run for reelection was about half to do with USFA (and my unwillingness to keep banging my stupid head against the same stupid wall) and about half to do with wanting to move on to other areas (including finishing the current book and getting to the others lined up behind it). While I can’t say I’m entirely happy about what I’ll be leaving undone by the end of August, when I look away from that frustration, I have to admit that there’s been some progress:

  • Brandon Rochelle, who replaced me as TC chair, has followed up in the direction I was going with the TC to recruit and train more BC staff. He had more staff interested in working this year’s SN than there were slots, and he’s got several BC staff well on the way to being able to serve as new BC chairs or computer leads, so the BC pool is in better shape than I would have predicted two or three years ago. He’s great on the policy side, too, so the TC is in excellent hands.
  • Kris Ekeren, Lorrie Marcil, David Blake, and I took the first steps in revamping USFA’s committee governance structure, figuring out what committees are needed, which ones could go away, and where they should be placed in the governance structure. We created a schedule and process for recruiting and appointing new committee members—the new web page for that purpose is set to go live tomorrow (May 18, 2015), so if you’re at all interested in helping make USFA function, keep an eye out for that. There’s still work to be done clarifying the lines of authority and responsibility among the board, the national office, and the various committees, but at least we’ve made a start. (The eventual goal is for our governance processes to be clear, explicit, and documented.)
  • There’s good stuff coming on the marketing side. Phil Reilly’s CMD has done a ton of work (pro bono, too) on branding and is only just getting started on a long process that we should have begun (like so much necessary work) years ago. I’m looking forward to see how that develops.

The frustration, of course, has to do with the tournament side of USFA. We still haven’t made enough progress figuring out a relatively permanent tournament structure capable of adapting to our continuing growth. (Contrary to what some seem to believe, growth in the sport of fencing is neither stagnant nor stopped, and what tweaks and changes USFA makes to our tournament structure will have little effect on that growth.) Despite pleas from the TC for as long as I can remember (and certainly as long as I was TC chair), we’ve not made much progress figuring out exactly how we will adapt to the growth beyond the general commitment to some sort of point-based qualification (PBQ) system. But the details of how PBQ will be implemented over the next few quads have yet to be determined, which is frustrating both for those in governance, who need to prepare for the coming-someday new system, and for the general membership, who’d like to have some idea how the new system will work. (Obviously also frustrating for those who believe the decisions have already been made but are being kept secret because Conspiracy!)

But for me, this is all becoming someone else’s problem as I shift my focus more to my writing and my personal life. As I’ve begun to pull back from my fencing activities, I’ve been startled to discover how little I’ve missed them. I’d not entirely realized how actively unpleasant much of what I’ve been doing at NACs had become for me. After three or four years of saying that this year’s SN would be my last, the 2014 SN was my last straw. Too many preventable problems recurring, too many of the same old discussions too many times, too many badly behaved people who should know better—and would probably have been even more infuriated if they’d known I was mentally scoring their rants for style and originality. Working as BC chair requires a level of patience I can no longer maintain—which is why I told Brandon I could work only six days at this year’s SN, and those only if I didn’t work more than three in a row. (I’ve already warned him I won’t be available at all for Dallas next summer.)

IMG_1683I’ve not decided yet whether I want to work NACs next season. At only four days, they are much less complex and stressful to work than SN, but the 2015-2016 NACs are mostly east of the Rockies and I don’t know that I want to travel that much. Maybe, maybe not.

One decision I have made, though, is who to vote for in the USFA board election that opens tomorrow. There are three candidates for two open slots, and all three have long experience with USFA and its governance. Laurie Schiller is an easy choice for me—he is the single most underestimated member of our board. I consider him the conscience of the board—time after time at meetings (and especially in executive sessions), he’s the director who cuts straight to the salient point that the rest of us too often dance around. The board desperately needs his dogged honesty.

I will also vote for Donald Alperstein. Donald is not someone I always agree with, but he’s got a long history of service to USFA, and is utterly conscientious about his fencing work. He’s got a better feel for the long-term consequences of decisions the board makes than does Jeff Salmon, also a diligent worker as a board member. (I have to admit that I disagree more often with Jeff on various policies, so that probably contributes to my choice of Donald as well.)

See you in San Jose, I hope, and in the meantime, back to work on that manuscript for me.

You Are Getting Sleepy . . .

Last night while I was watching the Giants game (and no, I don’t want to talk at all about that 9th inning, especially after Lincecum pitched so well), I was also skimming through the Pulse app on my iPad to see if there was anything interesting in the collection of blogs I loosely follow. And sure enough, io9 had a piece I couldn’t resist at this time of year: “Can You Condition Your Body to Require Less Sleep?”

The sleep study this article discussed compared the effects of total sleep deprivation with sleep limitation, specifically to 4 hours or 6 hours of sleep per night over 14 days.

Wait a minute! That’s almost exactly what I’m about to do for Summer Nationals!

Happily, the io9 article includes a link to the original paper—here’s a bit from the abstract:

Conclusions: Since chronic restriction of sleep to 6 h or less per night produced cognitive performance deficits equivalent to up to 2 nights of total sleep deprivation, it appears that even relatively moderate sleep restriction can seriously impair waking neurobehavioral functions in healthy adults. Sleepiness ratings suggest that subjects were largely unaware of these increasing cognitive deficits, which may explain why the impact of chronic sleep restriction on waking cognitive functions is often assumed to be benign.

It turns out that it’s not so much the lack of sleep itself that gets to us but the cumulative additional hours of wakefulness. So after several days of only 4 hours of sleep per night, you’ve got the same number of extra hours awake as someone who’s not slept at all for a couple of nights. It takes a few more days on 6 hours per night for the effects to hit the same level, but once you’ve added those extra hours of wakefulness to the cumulative total, it’s as though you’ve pulled 2 or 3 consecutive all-nighters.

And the kicker is that, unlike those who don’t sleep at all and normally feel like it, we limited sleepers are less aware of the effects. Although there is some awareness of feeling sleepier than usual for the first day or two, that wears off, so we think we’re acclimating to our sleep deficit. But we don’t adjust. The dire performance effects are still there—it’s just that the ability to notice we’re sleepy is one of those skills that are adversely affected, along with our other neurobehavioral functions.

This could explain why I’m never much bothered by the 3-hour time zone change.


Numbers Games

A week or so ago, someone who didn’t know how USA Fencing Summer Nationals entries work might have been hopeful that the tournament would be—if not actually a reasonable size—somewhat less daunting than expected. At some point during that Friday, there were 6,221 individual and only 87 team entries.

I knew better.

Typically, around 40% of USFA tournament entries come in during the last week before the deadline, with a large final onslaught in the last few hours. (Despite explicit warnings, Railstation was insufficiently prepared for the rush, and crashed under the load Monday evening, so the deadline was extended to Thursday noon.) Uncharacteristically (I’m usually content to wait for the final numbers), I spent much of the weekend—and the following extra days—watching the numbers creep up in fits and starts. I wasn’t surprised that most of the Veteran numbers stayed where they were, as did most of the Youth numbers. The categories with the biggest increases toward the end? Junior, Cadet, Division I, and both Junior and Senior teams.

As of Thursday’s revised regular deadline, we had 8,984 individual entries and 310 team entries from 4299 people. That’s a bit of a jump from previous years:

SN 052214

(Downloadable pdf: SN 052214)

These numbers will change a little by the time we get to Columbus. A few entries haven’t been cleared because their eligibility hasn’t yet been confirmed. (Another good reason never to wait to the last possible moment to enter.) A few more will come in before the triple-fee late deadline this coming Monday. And there are always withdraws and no-shows at check-in. The final numbers will be somewhat smaller than we have now, but not by all that much— perhaps 200-400 fewer.

In the meantime, let’s break this current total down into a few interesting—if useless—factoids:

  • Smallest individual event: 5, Vet 70 Women’s Epee
  • Smallest team event: 9, Sr Women’s Saber
  • Largest individual event: 383, Jr Men’s Epee (followed by Jr Men’s Foil and Division I Men’s Epee, at 357 and 356, respectively)
  • Largest team event: 67, Jr Men’s Epee
  • Smallest category: 49, Vet 70
  • Largest category: 1627, Junior (more than any NAC of the 03-04 season)
  • Potential DE tables of 512: 3, (though no-shows could drop the Division I ME back to a nearly complete 256)
  • Y12 MF in 1999: 90; Y12 MF in 2014: 188
  • Y14 WS in 1999: 22; Y14 WS in 2014: 143

While I obsessed over the entry growth last weekend, I began to think that several categories of events were trending toward parity across all six weapons, that while men’s epee may still be an outlier for years to come, we may well have roughly even numbers among the other five weapons within the next quad. So one afternoon this week, I sat down, pulled up some statistics from past years, and created a whole raft of pie charts. What I expected to see was a progression something like this:

expected spread

(Blue=ME, Green=MF, Yellow=MS, Orange=WE, Red=WF, Purple=WS)

Turns out, not so much.

Vet 70 still looks a lot like the leftmost pie, but everything else seems to look randomly like any of the other three. Some years and some categories are more equal than others, but within that range, there’s not any obvious trend.  If you’re interested, you can take a look at the pdf I put together:

weapon spread

Ah, well. That’s enough avoidance behavior. Time to focus on making all these numbers work in Columbus next month.

Any bets on 10,000 for 2015?