Having been a member of the fencing community for 11 years, I was interested to hear what Kris Ekeren, US Fencing’s Executive Director, had to say about the evolution of our sport. Here’s a link to her blog post: http://www.usfencing.org/news_article/show/511809?referrer_id=669365
My reaction can be summed up in three words: I am appalled.
I am appalled by the lack of public discussion about the upcoming changes. “This topic has generated more discussion in meetings and on social media than almost any other during the last 18 months”, she says. No one I know in the fencing world appears to have been consulted about this in any fashion, unless they are hiding their involvement for some reason. The decision seems to have been made behind closed doors by groups who have read posts on discussion boards and Facebook and counted that as insight into the desires of the grassroots. That is the equivalent of writing a doctoral thesis about how women perceive themselves and basing all your research on the results from Buzzfeed’s “What Disney Princess are You?” quiz.
I am appalled at the idea that this will force “athletes to compete at their skill level“. It is beneficial to athletes of all skill levels to fence together. That allows newer fencers to experience what it feels like to fence at the next level and to determine what it will take to move to the next one. And it gives the better fencers a chance to give back to the community that has helped create their fencing talent. It is incredibly exciting and motivating for a lower level student to fence a higher level fencer over the course of several seasons because it is tangible proof of their improvement and progress (or lack thereof). We do it in our fencing clubs for similar reasons.
I am appalled that this will take away the opportunity to foster relationships and a sense of community in the fencing world at large. National events currently enable the creation of friendships amongst fencers of all levels and working relationships amongst coaches. For a smaller club like ours who is still building the framework for creating national-level competitors, the advice and feedback we have gotten from other, more established coaches has been invaluable in helping us build our program and take it to the next level. Although I have no problem with having to qualify for national events, keeping us locked in a box that the National Office says is appropriate would hold us back and prevent us from developing a competitive program. It will send the clear message that only clubs who currently compete at the highest levels will be welcome there. Anyone else who dares to dream that they will be able to build a club from scratch that will one day be able to claw their way to the top should just give up on that idea now.
I am appalled at the elitist attitude that these changes convey. Being allowed to fence in a national competition only because you are “good enough” is ridiculous. We have used NAC events hosted in our area–Div 1, 2, 3, junior, cadet, and Vet–to serve as a catalyst to get our recreational fencers fired up about their potential as a competitor. The vast majority of our fencers who have competed “beyond their level” choose to stay in the sport because they have a clear idea of what they are working toward. The few that have dropped out because of such a competition experience most likely would not have lasted long in fencing anyway.
I am appalled that these changes will also come in conjunction with limiting the RJCC events to qualifying fencers from that specific region. The new RJCC system, like the changes put forth in Ms. Ekeren’s message, will benefit the fencers in regions that already have a lot of fencing. Given that the National Office has already changed the regional limitations for the RYC and the RJCC events, undoubtably the ROC events will be next in their line of fire. I come from a region where there is not a lot of sabre fencing, much less women’s sabre fencing. We have worked extremely hard over the past five years to create strong events that will draw sabre fencers from all over the country. Under the new system, we will once again be forced to compete “at our level” within our region. This will lead to stagnation in the sabre ranks and will keep us out of the running on the national level. For those few who can afford to spend the time and money traveling to events that will result in zero qualification points, they are the elites being catered to already by the National Office. The rest will have to eat the leftover scraps and only dream of what the original meal tasted like.
It’s obvious from the success of programs such as Fencing in the Schools that the country as a whole is interested in fencing. The vision presented in Kris Ekeren’s blog post is short-sighted at best. It makes it clear that the National Office has no desire to encourage the growth of our sport, but rather to continue to reduce its scope until only the most elite survive.
Please email, call, text, telegraph, send a letter by carrier pigeon, something to the people who currently occupy positions of leadership within our organization to tell them how you think their changes to national tournaments will affect you. Elections for the Board of Directors are approaching; find out which candidates share your views on this message and vote for them. Don’t sit idly by as major changes to our organizational structure come into play. Take action and help your ideas about fencing become reality. Let’s make the National Office listen to what the real grassroots fencers and clubs have to say. We are much more numerous and we are the ones who pay most of their bills. Don’t let them put you in a box and tell you what level is appropriate for you. You and your coach know that. Don’t let them take that choice away. Make your voice heard.