USA Fencing just released the national calendar for next season today, and it’s already a hot topic of conversation online and among the fencing community in clubs all over the United States. While we were anxiously anticipating this national calendar, what was revealed is, to put it bluntly, a big disappointment.
Normally, I refrained from criticizing USA Fencing here on the AFM blog and in general within the community because it doesn’t help to grow the reputation of the organization and by extension it doesn’t help the sport to grow and become more widespread in the world. I also understand the immense amount of work that it takes to bring these huge events to life all over the country, especially when a lot of people have a lot of different opinions.
Every region is hugely different. Every club is different from every other club. There are many, many stakeholders that need to be satisfied. The members have a multitude of different requirements, the coaches have needs and ideas, the clubs are always looking for ways to keep going, and fencing parents have an important perspective. For all of these reasons, I usually try to refrain from criticizing. Even here, with this controversy about the schedule, I hope to not wade into criticizing, but rather that it will be looked on by USA Fencing as an opportunity to improve for next year.
2022-23 is not changing, but the years beyond are malleable
We should be clear on this point – this year it’s done and it is what it is. There’s no material way to change the schedule now, but there are things that can be done to mold the 2023-24 schedule.
USA Fencing, I am directly asking you to please take into more consideration the needs of the people. Yes, there are a lot of stakeholders here, but fencing families and fencers themselves are the ones who drive the sport. Taking their needs into consideration is a critically important part of what you are charged with doing, and we would like to voice our support for increased common sense planning that could easily support solutions that work for everyone involved.
Though the coming year cannot be changed, the years beyond must be considered if we are to see a better outcome for our fencers that helps them grow more effectively.
Specific issues with the 2022-23 USA Fencing national calendar
There are concrete, important aspects of the national calendar for next year that should be reworked for future seasons. These are the things that I see, and they’re also sentiments that I’m seeing echoed online and through people in the community that I hear talking. Of course, these are my opinions, but they’re all focused on what is best for the fencing families and the fencers. And of course, there might be more issues that I pointed out below, and I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comment section.
This sport, particularly at the level which the schedule affects fencers, involves a great deal of travel and planning. There are also issues of which events are represented when and where. Though the moving pieces are huge and nearly impossible to fathom, getting the balance right on them is essential for USA Fencing.
1. Publishing the national calendar earlier
First of all, the national calendar should definitely be published long before the season, preferably at least in May of the current season.
There are so, so many things that need to be planned, and that need to be planned as far out as possible for families who are negotiating work, school, travel, and fencing needs. It’s important for everybody.
Yes, there are certainly negotiations with venues and cities and hotels that have to be done as part of this process. Most people don’t realize how massive the whole thing is, from booking the venue to making sure there are ample hotels nearby and partnering with the city for logistical support when needed. There are a lot of logistics that go into this mega event. I know it’s not easy. I know that USA Fencing sometimes has to work with multiple-year contracts and balance with many conflicts that arise.
If it’s no possible to put all of the details into the national calendar at first, that’s ok! It’s better to put something out that’s got plenty of TBD spaces filled in than not to have it at all. A little information goes a long way.
I get it too that USA Fencing wants to hold the competition announcement until after Summer Nationals, but is the theatre of that big reveal worth the cost? Families need to be able to plan things, and they need to be able to get it all done in as effective a way as possible.
2. The daily schedule
The daily schedule in most cases should be the same year to year. There’s definitely some variation in the specifics depending on the changing landscape of the sport, but that should be minimal. There are enough data points by now for USA Fencing to have a basic structure that will work over and over again. Part of the frustration is that we see that the schedule shifts only a little, so it’s hard to see why we could have it just set out earlier to allow us all time to plan.
Maybe there isn’t enough prior information to get a detailed schedule set out, but you can do the daily schedule of different events. It would be more challenging to do the hourly, but even that it’s possible in my opinion, even now. There is always the option to put a caveat there that this is only tentative, but having some idea definitely helps.
From the perspective of parents, this is all very important. Parents need to know when events will start so that they can plan travel accordingly. This is super important, because it could save thousands of dollars for parents every year. Instead of buying expensive tickets because they must be bought at the last minute, parents would absolutely be happier to spend that money on the development of their fencer through more lessons or camps, or even through more competitions.
At this point, it’s basically a waste of funds. Like throwing money down the drain and watching it spin around in circles till it finally disappears. There’s just no reason for it, and to shift the daily schedule to an earlier release time would make all of the difference for planning ahead. Essentially, it will take some money from Hilton and United and put it back to fencing, and even a lot of money.
3. Venue timing and locations
This is one of the biggest complaints I’m seeing online, and it’s a major issue for this current calender.
USA Fencing should refrain from sending people during the high tourist seasons to major tourist destinations. Full stop.
For this coming year, the December NAC is going to be in Salt Lake City and the Junior Olympics are going to be in Denver, Colorado. Both of these places are beautiful and full of lots of things to do in the winter, but those lots of things to do attract lots of tourists during this time of year. Both of these cities are major ski destinations, which will make everything from flights to hotels to car rentals incredibly expensive. That doesn’t even include the additional congestion and frustration of getting around these cities when they’re in high tourist season.
It’s hard to overestimate what a bad idea it is to have these competitions in these cities during this time of year – it will really push fencers and their families, and there seems to be little reason for it.
The winter isn’t the only problem. Having Phoenix, Arizona host in the middle of the summer with Summer Nationals is going to be a problem. The heat in Phoenix in July regularly approaches 110 degrees and highter, and our fencers are going to have to figure out how to manage their health and safety while traveling and preparing in the venue. Phoenix is a fun city and a fun place to explore, but it’s not that way in the middle of July.
Going forward, these considerations about the climate and the tourism in a place that is set to host should be taken into advisement in a much more serious way. This year, it all looks backwards.
4. Moving, canceling, and changing competitions
Which competitions take place when and what is included is more of a complex thing to negotiate, but there are considerations that are missing from the calculus here. At the very least, the interests of fencers should be taken into account.
Let’s start with the first thing – the November NAC is canceled. There was a conflict and that seems to be the reason they decided not to hold it this year, which is again what it is. The November NAC should happen during Veteran’s Day weekend, and the reason is because this NAC was at least traditionally aimed at high schoolers. Y14, Cadet, and Juniors were competing in the NAC. Now, Y14 in this current schedule has been moved to October. That’s fine, but Cadets seem to have been pushed to the December NAC. All of this is a problem for our high school students.
Right now, the December NAC will have Cadet, Junior, and Division One, and all of those are ages that sit right in that high school swath of fencers.
With the current scheduling, the December NAC is going to be one week before finals for high schoolers. It’s a huge, hard sacrifice for high schoolers, especially those in their the last two years. They have final projects and final exams. It’s a bit of a disaster for those fencers, as this NAC is also important for them, especially the cadets. It’s the last NAC that has a cadet category. It’s very challenging, and worst of all it puts these fencers in the position to have to choose which pieces are more important to them, or else have to juggle to do it all. It’s unneeded stress for Cadets.
The March NAC does have a nice addition – the Cadet Team. Usually, the March NAC was Y10, Y12, Y14. It was a good NAC, but Y14 was only one event to attend for those older youth fencers who were knocking on the door of the next level. For parents that are going to send a fencer to one event at a NAC, it’s extremely expensive and there’s a question of whether it’s worth it.. Many parents have wrestled with whether to send their kids to this when their kids were bumped up to Y14 and not Y12 anymore. Quite frankly, a lot of parents said, no, it’s too much. That’s totally understandable.
Having Cadet and Cadet team is very good at the March NAC because it does give those fencers more events to participate in. Now, let’s talk about the but (here comes the but) – the March NAC is after the Junior Olympics, and that means that all Cadets born in 2006 are aged out of the event. That NAC is for new Cadets now, born 2010 and they can start preparing to qualify for the Summer Nationals and next year Junior Olympics.
Overall, compared to other changes and to previous years, Cadet events in March NAC are a nice addition. The team is a huge addition. Those Y14 fencers will now have three events to fence, which is more robust and better all around, and some 2010-born Y12 fencers can do even four events! I like it a lot because it means that we can start developing young fencers early in a team environment. I always preach the necessity of team events, because these fencers who compete in the team event develop so many more skills. Looked like the USA Fencing listened, thanks!
We’ll come back around to a big problem now with the new schedule – the Div2 NACs were dropped off of the season. This is a huge thing, and it will have a very negative effect on those fencers. This denies many fencers an opportunity to compete nationally, which is deeply unfortunate and hugely problematic. This is something that USA Fencing could actually fix for the season, and we would love to see them do it. To drop these competitions is a loss for many fencers, and we should just do better.
5. Locations and fairness
Finally, I have to speak at least somewhat about the location issue. There are no national events on the coasts, and it’s very obvious when looking at the map that it’s all centered in the middle of the country and concentrated in certain areas.
Whether events should be in St. Louis, Phoenix. Fort Worth, Denver, Louisville, Salt Lake City, or Minneapolis is a bit of a matter of opinion. I love Salt Lake City or Denver for us. For Californians, these are great locations. Obviously, I like Phoenix because, again, it’s a closer trip. The timing however is the biggest problem. I think Salt Lake City would be good for Summer Nationals and Phoenix would be good for the December NAC or Junior Olympics. Balancing that need for a place that’s the right weather and the right tourist mix should be a priority.
From the perspective of distance and fairness, it’s hard to tell. I do compliment that there is nothing in Richmond or in Charlotte this year because those didn’t work for many of us traveling from all the way on the other side of the country. It was very difficult. But location is always a relative thing.
Spreading things out across the country is always going to be a part of determining the national competition schedule. As long as the distribution is relatively equitable over time. This year, things are concentrated in the middle of the country. Next year, there should be the opportunity to expand further and catch up some of those areas where this year’s map seems to be lacking.
The emerging of USA Fencing
USA Fencing is emerging. There are so many changes this year. Too many changes in my opition, but that’s how these things go sometimes with new blood and lots of ideas. The new CEO is coming, there’s a lot of personnel change in the organization that will affect how everything turns out.
From my perspective, I see that USA Fencing is listening much more to the membership than we might be able to see from the outside, even if it doesn’t look to some this way. I do believe that the organization as a whole is going to be transformed in the several years will be a huge, pivotal moment for the trajectory of our sport.
I do believe and hope that we will see better things in the future. This is a rough patch right now, with everyone having different opinions and emotions flaring. Once we get into the groove of the season, we’ll all accept the schedule at least mostly, even when it seems unnecessarily challenging.
USA Fencing, if you are reading this, I ask you please to have a look at the options that we’re talking about. Though there is not some magic wand that will make it all work perfectly, there are still such opportunities.
Whatever happens for this next fencing season, we are encouraged by the hard work and open communication that goes into a schedule like this. There are so many opportunities, and we would love to see next year work out better for everyone.