Email to Board and Management of US Fencing Regarding NAC Organization

This article has been read 1,074 times since publication (updated Monday, December 10, 2018)

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We emailed US Fencing’s Board and Management team today bringing the following issues to their attention:

  • high airfares to NAC host cities that are not well served with flights from the West Coast.  

  • long flight durations of 6 to 8 hours to these same NAC host cities

  • jet lag due to time differences of between 2 to 3 hours for West Coast fencers

  • event scheduling that creates unnecessary idle days between events in a fencer's current age group and events one age group up.  The time gaps extends the fencer's stay, and increases the costs and missed school days unnecessarily.  This issue is relevant to all fencers in the age group and weapon affected, not just West Coast fencers.

Given that California is now the state with the largest number of competitive fencers under age 18 in the country, US Fencing must pay attention to the needs of fencers who live on the West Coast.

Fencers under 18 with competitive memberships from California now represent the largest group of teenage and youth fencers from any single state in the country with 1,998 fencers*, and growing fast. Competitive fencers under 18 from California alone exceed the total number of competitive fencers under 18 from all of Region II (Mid-West) and Region V  (Texas, Louisianan, Oklahoma and Arkansas) combined.  They number 1,952 fencers*.  

The state with a next largest number of fencers after California is New York with 1,070 competitive fencers under 18, followed by New Jersey with 1,038 fencers under 18*. New York and New Jersey combined have only marginally more fencers than California alone.


The full text of the email is reproduced below:

To the Management and Board of US Fencing:

This letter is written in my capacity as a parent of a West Coast based fencer, and as the editor of Fencing Parents (www.fencingparents.org), a blog for parents with children who fence.

A number of issues have been building up over several years, and this year they have come to a head for parents, especially for those on the West Coast .  These issues are:

  • high airfares to NAC host cities that are not well served with flights from the West Coast.  

  • long flight durations of 6 to 8 hours to these same NAC host cities

  • jet lag due to time differences of between 2 to 3 hours for West Coast fencers

  • event scheduling that creates unnecessary idle days between events in a fencer's current age group and events one age group up.  The time gaps extends the fencer's stay, and increases the costs and missed school days unnecessarily.  This issue is relevant to all fencers in the age group and weapon affected, not just West Coast fencers.

Fencers under 18 with competitive memberships from California now represent the largest group of teenage and youth fencers from any single state in the country with 1,998 fencers*, and growing fast. Competitive fencers under 18 from California alone exceed the total number of competitive fencers under 18 from all of Region II (Mid-West) and Region V  (Texas, Louisianan, Oklahoma and Arkansas) combined.  They number 1,952 fencers*.  

The state with a next largest number of fencers after California is New York with 1,070 competitive fencers under 18, followed by New Jersey with 1,038 fencers under 18*. New York and New Jersey combined have only marginally more fencers than California alone.

Despite large numbers, the West Coast has been severely disadvantaged when it comes to NAC locations.  

 * This data on fencers is extracted from US Fencing's membership worksheet.

 HIGH AIRFARES AND LONG FLIGHT TIMES

It isn't enough to place 2 national competitions in the West, in Denver and Salt Lake City, while locating 5 of the other 6 national competitions in cities that are challenging for West Coast families from both cost and time perspective.

The travel costs to NACs in recent years, and in particular, in the 2018/2019 fencing year, have been unnecessarily high for fencers travelling from the West Coast. With only 3 of 8 national tournaments located in cities with good non-stop flight options from around the country (Salt Lake City, Denver and Kansas City), West Coast parents have and will have to bear the brunt of expensive airfares and long flights to NACs this year.

 None of the host cities in the Mid-West (Kansas City excepted) and Charlotte, NC have reasonable flight options from the West Coast.  Charlotte wins the prize for most expensive to get to with airfares of  $700 per person from California.  Travel to the other cities involve 6 to 8 hour flight times and airfares of between $500 and $600 per person, with very few direct flights.  Parents have pointed out that some of these flights cost more than flights to international destinations.

Because the flight options to Kansas City were reasonably good, the airfare averaged $290 per person from the West Coast on non-stop flights - that is half or less than half of the fare we incurred to Milwaukee, and will have to incur to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Charlotte.  

Denver and Salt Lake City are both hub cities with good flight options for most of the country.  As a result, we expect the fares to average between $250 to $300 per person from the West Coast, about $450 from New York, and about $400 from Chicago.  For East Coast and Mid-West fencers, the costs of travel to Denver and Salt Lake City are between 20% to 30% cheaper compared to the costs that must be incurred by West Coast fencers travelling east.

As few fencers under 18 travel alone, the airfare per family per NAC exceeds $1,000 when the flight options are bad.  Many teenagers attend between 5 and 7 national competitions a year, translating to airfares alone of $4,000 to $6,000 annually.  A 50% drop in airfares would mean a substantial savings for every family.

Without non-stop flight options to host cities, fencers and their parents are forced to undertake flights of 6 to 8 hour duration, frequently forcing the fencer to miss extra days of school, the parent to miss extra days of work, and the family to incur extra nights in a hotel.

All of this high travel cost and long flight times could have been avoided with a more fair allocation of host city locations for NACs in the first place.  Perhaps, US Fencing is not aware of the underlying issues for such a large contingent of parents and fencers on the West Coast.

We are not interested in "tournacations" (tournament + vacation), so avoidance of cities with high tourist traffic and expensive food would be good.  We place a premium on lower airfares, shorter flight times on non-stop flights, fewer missed school and work days, and the fewest nights possible in a hotel.  

Teenage fencers are high school students with heavy workloads.  Many board flights to NACs after a long day at school, and fly home to a big test on the Monday or Tuesday after a NAC.  The more efficient the travel, the better.

We appreciate that US Fencing is exploring new options for host cities for future NACs that will help resolve the issues of high airfares and and long flight times.   

FENCING PARENTS ARTICLES EXPRESSING THE FRUSTRATIONS OF PARENTS, THEIR COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS

Two articles by Fencing Parents (with links below) encapsulate the key issues about airfares, flight times, and jet lag that parents want to see addressed in a fair and timely way.  These articles have been widely shared and read by parents around the country.  The comments from parents are thoughtful and reflect majority concerns.

October NAC Milwaukee Debrief for Parents - Security Lines and Flight Times

US Fencing is Exploring New Cities for NACs

Below are a number of excellent suggestions from parents that could provide long term solutions to the issues.

 HOST CITY SELECTION SUGGESTIONS 

  1. Rather than pick 8 different cities every year, lock in arrangements with just a few cities that are centrally located with excellent flight options for the next 6 to 8 years.  That way, each city will be incentivized to offer US Fencing a very good deal for such long commitments.  It would be fine to return to a city twice or even thrice a year if the benefit is shorter and cheaper travel for all.  The hotels would also be incentivized to cut better deals if they can lock down substantial long term business from US Fencing.

  2. Select several cities in the east and several in the west that have excellent flight connections, and cut very long term arrangements to incentivize the cities.  For example, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Fort Lauderdale, Kansas City and St Louis in the east, and Denver, Salt Lake City, Anaheim and Phoenix in the west.   US Fencing could, for example, hold JOs in the east and Summer Nationals in the west one year, and switch them over for the next year.  Again, the hotels would be incentivized to cut better deals if they can lock down substantial long term business.

  3. For the winter months, select host cities that are not at risk of snow storms that disrupt air travel, creating unneccessary costs, chaos and stress for fencers and their parents.  There have been a number of very bad experiences in recent years including Junior Olympics 2016 in Cleveland, and the January NAC 2018 in Virginia Beach.  Pick cities in the south like Atlanta, Houston, Dallas or Fort Lauderdale, or cities in the west like Anaheim or Phoenix for the winter months.

Solutions are clearly not limited to these suggestions, and we look forward to a dialog with US Fencing on possible solutions to ease the cost burden on West Coast parents. 

JETLAG AND LATER MORNING START TIMES

Several parents have suggested moving morning start times by an hour or two, so that fencers from the West Coast are not waking up at the equivalent 3 am or 4 am Pacific time to prepare for competition.  

This solution also solves the issue of breakfast.  Many hotels don't start serving breakfast till 6.30am, which is too late for fencers who need to be at the venue to check-in and warm up for an 8 am competition start.  Room service can be very pricey.  My son's breakfast in Milwaukee through room service cost $50!  

Moving the start time to 9 am or even 10 am is surely do-able, and immediately implementable.

EVENT SCHEDULING AT NACs

The typical youth or teenage fencer attends a national competition (NAC and Championships) to compete in events within their current age group, and one age group level up.  Most fencers plan to compete in 2 events at national competitions to make the cost of travelling worthwhile.

We urge US Fencing to pay closer attention to scheduling events so that there are no unnecessary time gaps that raise costs or leave the fencer with the bad choice of showing up for only one event, or not showing up at all.

Parents have been told by US Fencing they now outsource event scheduling, and it is done by "bots".  The bot algorithms seem faulty, and definitely require human intervention and a strong dose of common sense!  

There are not so many events that they cannot be manually scheduled by someone at US Fencing!

3 such examples, all in foil events are:

Example 1 - November NAC 2018  for Y14 MF and Cadet MF

The Y14 event was held on Friday November 9, and the Cadet MF event was held on Monday November 12. 

To fence both events, a Y14 MF fencer would have had to stay in Kansas City for 4 nights, instead of the usual 3.  On top of that, the Y14 MF fencer would have had 2 days of idle time doing homework from a hotel room paid for by his parents, waiting for Monday and the Cadet event.

As a result, the Y14 MF event had a very low turn-out of 136 fencers, compared to November NAC 2017 where Y14 MF had a turn-out of 174 fencers, a difference of 25%.  The November 2018 scheduling appears to have depressed Cadet turn-out as well, 284 in 2017 and 249 in 2018, a difference 12.5%.  In 2017, the Y14 MF and Cadet MF events were scheduled back to back which facilitated a much higher turnout!

This scheduling snafu in November 2018 not only deprived many Y14 fencers of a development opportunity to fence in Cadet MF, there was a cost to US Fencing in lost revenue.

A simple scheduling switch to place Cadet MF on Saturday November 10, and Junior MF on Monday November 12 would have probably increased attendance for both Y14 MF and Cadet MF.  There are also other possible combinations that would have worked much better.

Example 2 - March NAC 2019 for Y12 WF and Y14 WF

The Y14 WF is scheduled for Friday March 1, and the Y12 WF event for Monday March 4.  Again, there is a 2 day gap over the weekend, sitting in a hotel room doing homework or idling with parents footing the bill.

As neither the Friday nor Monday are holidays, competing in both Y12 WF and Y14 WF will necessitate missing a minimum 3 days of school for the fencer.

The Y14 WF team event is scheduled on Saturday, March 2.  While a lot of fun, the team event does not award national points, and only a minority of fencers participate, and yet it is given a prime slot on the weekend.

 Again, the poor scheduling that creates unnecessary time gaps raise costs or leave the fencer with the bad choice of showing up for only one event, or not showing up at all.

Example 3 - Summer Nationals 2018 for MF events, Division 1, Junior, Cadet and Y14

In the summer, more Y14 fencers compete in Junior, Cadet and Y14 events.

In St Louis, Junior MF was held on Friday, June 29, Cadet MF on July 3, and Y14 MF on July 5.  Division 1 MF was scheduled between Cadet and Juniors on July 1.  

The gap between Junior MF and Cadet MF was 3 whole days.  For those Y14 MF fencers who chose to compete in Junior, Cadet and Y14 events, they had to stay in St Louis a minimum of 8 days, and many stayed 9.  If US Fencing had instead put Division 1 MF on June 29, and Junior MF on July 1, Y14 fencers could have reduced their stay by 2 days, at the very least, and saved several hundred dollars in hotel and food costs.

As it was, many Y14 MF fencers opted to skip the Junior MF event because of the poor schedule.

 CONCLUSION

As parents, we strive to provide the best support possible to our fencers in their endeavors to excel in fencing.  It takes time, commitment, dedication and money to make this happen.  Very few parents have unlimited means, and no fencer or working parent has unlimited time.

We ask that US Fencing take into account the very serious concerns we raise here, and work to select NAC locations, and schedule events in ways that are respectful of everyone's needs.  Fairness should be for all.

Respectfully

Donna Meyer

Parent of a Fencer

and 
The Editor

Fencing Parents

www.fencingparents.org

Note: 

Board Members included in this email: Donald Anthony Jr., David Arias, Donald Alperstein, Raquel Brown, Sam Cheris, Lorrie Marcil Holmes, Alan Kidd, Cody Mattern, Jeff Salmon, Daria Schneider, Adam Watson  (No email address available for Ann Marsh-Senic and Cliff Bayer)

Management included in this email: Bob Bodor, Deanna Doughton, Kris Ekeren, Ashley Gardner, Doug Hayler, Kristen Henneman, Nicole Jomantas, Melissa Jones, Bill Korbus, Dan Mott, Connor Shane, Christine Strong-Simmons, Jennifer Winckler


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