Ah, Milwaukee . . .

The Hilton looked pretty for the holidays.

The Hilton looked pretty for the holidays.

I was doomed to disappointment, I suppose, because my expectations were too high. And given how smoothly the first two national tournaments this season went (aside from being just plain too big), we were due for a weird one.

Milwaukee is the place where USA Fencing saved the big bucks feeding officials the season we weren’t paid until the following summer. The catered lunches for officials were astonishingly bad (see BC Diary: Officials Cuisine and BC Diary: Cuisine, Part 2), but the concession food was remarkably good that time—hand-formed burgers, made-to-order panini, lots of sausages and brats—so I was looking forward to the experiment of using concession vouchers for officials’ lunches.

Unfortunately, the available food concessions did not include the same food items as during our previous Milwaukee visit, so the food was disappointing. I can’t say I missed the catered lunches much—the never-ending cycle of BBQ, Italian, Mexican, and cold cuts gets a bit grim after a couple of tournaments, and the food’s never good enough to justify the $30-35 per person we’re usually charged. The $15 food vouchers we got this time were a reasonable experiment for our budget-constrained season, even if I didn’t get the fabulous panini I’d been expecting. The next test may be actual cash, so we won’t have to spend it all at once.

Mildly disappointing lunches are not so bad, though, when the days end by 6:30 or 7:30 pm, and there’s not only time to go out for decent dinners every night, but even an officials-only holiday event hosted by Val Belmonte, the new USA Fencing CEO. As Wes Glon noted at the event, it’s the first time in most of our memories that the association has done something explicitly to thank the volunteer officials who make our tournaments happen.

Up on the BC stage, we experimented with our reduced staffing and worked on the best ways to keep events running smoothly with fewer people working. The December NAC, with all those Veteran age-level events,  was a much better test than last month’s tournament was. We had a few bumpy stretches but managed to make everything work (and took lots of notes for the next one). But this NAC was just one of those odd ones, with lots of little weird incidents—no big disasters, but enough peculiarities to add up to less fun than it should have been.

On the other hand, Milwaukee was full of astonishing additions to my carpet pattern collection:

On the way home, I got one of the goofier Southwest flight crews I’ve run into for a long while—one of the flight attendants (with a pretty decent voice, even) sang a song for those stuck in B and E seats:

Looking for first class . . .

All I got was this lousy C boarding pass . . .

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right of me,

Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

And the captain, an elegant older woman, came out and gave a little welcome speech complimenting us on our “exquisite” taste in airlines; she was kind enough (without chattering on and on like some do) to identify a few geographic locations for us on the way, too:

Like the captain said in her little talk, a gorgeous day for flying.

Saber brain trust

This photo, from a group of pictures from NAC F in Virginia Beach posted by Tim Morehouse at his blog, makes me smile every time I look at it:

Ed Korfanty, Tom Strzalkowski, Wes Glon, Arkady Burdan, Yury Gelman

For the past ten years, I’ve seen some variant of this discussion at nearly every national tournament I’ve worked. My daughter tells me she thinks this particular iteration was about what constitutes a compound attack. It always amazes me how often and vehemently—and at such length—that even the very best coaches and referees discuss the rules and actions of fencing. Take this group: that’s Ed Korfanty, national women’s saber coach and head coach at the Oregon Fencing Alliance; Tom Strzalkowski, 1996 Olympian and volunteer coach at the Air Force Academy; Wes Glon, of Penn State; Arkady Burdan, of Nellya Fencers; and Yury Gelman, national men’s saber coach and head coach at Manhattan Fencing and St. John’s University. There may be consensus on the theory embodied in the rules, but almost never on the interpretation in real bouts, especially when it’s Arkady’s fencer on one end of the strip and Ed’s or Yury’s on the other.

At one the of first national tournaments I ever attended (NAC C in Palm Springs, probably 1999), I saw one of the most entertaining versions of this when Arkady and Yury disagreed with the referee’s calls in a bout and proceeded to reenact the entire 15-touch bout, discussing the slightly different interpretations they each had for the actions of their fencers and how the referee had erred (or not). Their performance lasted longer than the original bout and drew a larger crowd than most of the actual fencing going on, which is even more remarkable when you consider that they were speaking in Russion the entire time.