Review of the 3 Candidates Running for 2 US Fencing Board Seats this May
What positions are up for election this May?
US Fencing released the names of the 3 candidates on Monday, May 6, along with their candidate statements. The candidates are:
Electronic voting starts on May 8, and ends on May 29. US Fencing will issue instructions on how to vote on May 8. The results will be announced on May 30.
For most of parents, this is the 1st US Fencing Board election that we will pay close attention to. There are 2 at-large director positions up for election with 3 candidates running for these 2 seats. At-large director positions are open to those who are current members of US Fencing.
These 2 at-large director positions represent 2 of the 5 elected Board positions at US Fencing. The remaining 8 Board and Officer positions are appointed by the President and the Board, they are not elected.
Until we change the Bylaws and can elect a Board that is a truly representative of the US Fencing membership, we are constrained to exercise our votes to select the 2 people most qualified to lead and be our voices on the Board. The 2 at-large directors who are elected will serve 2 year terms beginning in September 2019.
Every candidate will be mobilizing their supporters to vote for them.
We strongly urge all parents who are eligible to vote to do so.
If you are a Supporting member of US Fencing you are eligible to vote. By carefully evaluating each candidate, and casting your vote for the 2 candidates you believe most able to represent your interests and by extension the interests of your fencing children, you are putting someone in place who is cognizant of the issues we raise and can advocate our positions on the Board.
We include a BOARD CANDIDATE EVALUATION MATRIX that will be helpful as you assess each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses as potential Board members.
What are the challenges faced by US Fencing, and what skills are required to solve these challenges?
Challenges faced by US Fencing
Before we proceed to vote, we need a firm grasp of the issues involved, and we must thoroughly evaluate the types of skills, personal qualities and experience needed to lead a US Fencing that is responsive to the interests and issues most important to us.
There are a number of substantial challenges facing US Fencing that we have highlighted many times in Fencing Parents’ articles in recent months.
From our perspective, these Board level challenges include:
implementing a formal and systematic referee training program
raising substantial amounts of money from donors and through sponsorships to fund US Fencing’s mission related activities. These include:
meaningful financial support for fencers representing the United States at all levels (Senior, Junior and Cadet),
funding for a formal and systematic referee training program,
funds to support the hosting of World Cups, Grand Prix and World Championships in the US for the benefit of fencers domestically
creation of scholarships and grants for financially deserving school aged fencers to enable them to pursue the sport of fencing
selecting NAC locations that are fair to all NAC attendees.
The saving of $50,000 to $100,000 in rent by selecting inconvenient, but cheap NAC locations is very bad policy if the result is to force parents every fencing season into collectively spending an extra $500,000 or more in expensive flights, extra hotel nights, and losing unnecessary school days and work days to attend the poorly located NACs. See: Holding National Competitions in Hub Cities . Call this waste, call this leakage, but it is not smart policy!
It is even worse policy when these inconvenient locations force less well-off fencers into untenable situations where they cannot afford to compete at national tournaments because of family budgetary constraints. Surely, it is not the Board’s intentional policy to restrict fencing to the financially well-off only?
The NACs generate very large surpluses (NACs will generate an estimated $1.9 million surplus this year, so why did US Fencing raise event fees?) but these surpluses have been commandeered to fund a limited number of activities that should appropriately be funded through fundraising and sponsorships. Let’s not forget that 80% of NAC attendees are fencers under the age of 18, so we parents underwrite these NACs. (See: Who goes to NACs and pays the fees 2017 - 2019?)
NAC surpluses can be put to many great uses including renting better located NAC venues, funding a formal and systematic referee training program and providing travel grants to talented fencers unable to afford the costs of travel to NACs.
providing coaches with professional marketing and training support
creating a cohesive and well considered strategic plan to inform decisions and drive action to make US Fencing a transparent and responsive organization to all of its membership
hiring a strong and qualified Chief Executive accountable for meeting performance objectives.
Fundamental Skills and Areas of expertise required to solve these challenges
The challenges faced by US Fencing are complex, and require a fairly wide range of fundamental skills, personal qualities and areas of expertise to address these issues. At the very least, we need high caliber Board members who possess some combination of these skills, qualities and areas of expertise, even if we cannot realistically expect each Board member to possess each and every skill, personal quality or area of expertise.
LEADERSHIP - the Board leads the way. Every member of the Board must possess demonstrated leadership qualities, and show where they have succeeded in managing organizational and human challenges effectively, or where they have been in positions of leadership to motivate groups of people to rise to their fullest potential.
STRATEGIC PLANNING - the Board must have a vision for the future. Board members must have the ability to envision US Fencing’s future at a “big picture” strategic level, and articulate clearly how that future can be executed in the best interests of the membership.
FINANCIAL - the Board oversees the financial planning, reviews and approves budgets, approves fiscal policies, reviews financial statements and anticipates financial problems. A Board member’s financial savvy is critical to giving good advice and providing strong leadership in financial matters
MARKETING AND PUBLIC RELATIONS - the Board needs to understand the importance of marketing at several levels. Sponsorship from companies and brands tie in closely with marketing. Understanding how brands make decisions matters in how US Fencing positions itself with them. Some brands have specific social responsibility goals to build their image as the brand that does the right thing. Their sponsorships are not necessarily focused on pure selling, these brands may be more open to supporting US Fencing despite its small membership base. US Fencing must figure out how to attract paying spectators from outside the fencing community if it is to sell tickets at tournaments as a revenue source. Marketing the sport as cool and hip will help attract a new paying crowd.
GOVERNANCE - the Board of a non-profit like US Fencing must understand its fiduciary responsibilities and act in accordance with the best interests of US Fencing’s membership. Every member of the Board has to understand what these responsibilities are so that their decisions are imbued with this knowledge. Ethics is important. Transparency is critical to trust. The membership must understand the whys of Board decisions. When Board meetings that are technically open to members to listen in, rapidly switch to Executive sessions (closed to members) after the disposal of mundane and routine business, there is no transparency and no trust.
FUNDRAISING - While not every Board member needs to write big checks, every Board member must be willing and capable of effectively promoting US Fencing to potential donors at every opportunity. Not every Board member needs to know how to make the “ask”, but they must be prepared to lay the groundwork for the “ask”. It is more important that the Board of the US Fencing Foundation Board be made up of Board members who have the resources to write big checks and can get others like themselves to do so.
ORGANIZATIONAL MANAGEMENT - There are many communities within US Fencing, each with specific needs and interests. Board members who understand how the Board itself is organized, how its Committees are organized, how its staffing arrangements are set up, will make a big difference as to whether US Fencing is responsive to each of the different communities.
LAW AND TECHNOLOGY - The Board should have, at least, one Board member with legal expertise and one Board member who understands technology and how to use technology to streamline US Fencing’s operations and functions. US Fencing currently has a concentration of lawyers on its Board, it is important that these Board members possess other areas of expertise or skills to advance US Fencing prerogatives.
UNDERSTAND THE NEEDS OF THE COMMUNITY - To be responsive to member needs, a Board member’s ability to reach out to the different fencing communities to understand their needs is critical. With so many appointed Board members and Officers, it becomes imperative that these persons tasked with fiduciary responsibility reach out to talk to people and understand their concerns. A remote Board is not an effective Board. Good listening skills make for an effective Board.
The Board does not stand above the community, the Board stands with the community!
If you did not receive an email with instructions on how to vote, you can request the link to vote electronically by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and providing your name and your US Fencing membership number.
How do the 3 candidates stack up on in addressing the challenges we have identified at US Fencing?
Let’s take a closer look at what each of the candidates have to say about pressing issues at US Fencing, and how they envision the future. Let’s look at their track record on the Board if they are current Board members.
WHO IS HE?
A lawyer by profession, Donald Alperstein currently serves on the US Fencing Board as an elected at-large director.
He is a former US Fencing President (1996 to 2000), and has a long history of service both on the Board, and as legal counsel to US Fencing. He has represented US Fencing at the FIE Congress and been appointed by the FIE Commission to various official positions.
Don Alperstein drafted the rules relating to the Ethics Committee, and is a believer in full disclosure of any conflicts of interest involving Board members and Officers. To this end, and to set a good example, he has authorized the Ethics Committee and the Executive Director to release his conflicts of interests disclosure to anyone who requests for it.
WHY IS HE RUNNING FOR A BOARD SEAT?
He was nominated for re-election by the Nominations Committee.
USA Fencing is his passion. “I firmly believe that we stand at the threshold of a new and golden age for our organization and our sport. As the drafter of USA Fencing’s vision statement, “To inspire a lifetime enriched by fencing,” I fully embrace that sentiment.”
WHAT ARE HIS PRIORITIES?
Ethics and Integrity on the Board - His 1st priority is to continue “ ensuring that USA Fencing adheres to the highest ethical standards and functions as a responsive and responsible organization “
He is “pursuing policies and sponsoring rules to make public required conflict of interest disclosures by officers, Board members and committee leaders. And because I feel it is important to “walk the walk,” “
Setting himself apart from others, Don Alperstein owes “no special loyalty to any individual, club, school or business: I am free from conflicts of interest.”
Prudent Financial Management and Respect for Members’ Funds - US Fencing’s “purpose is not to make money, but to grow the sport and to meet the needs of our members, clubs and other constituencies. Our success should be measured by how well we achieve these goals. “
US Fencing has “a responsibility to use our members’ and supporters’ money wisely by maximizing the use of funds while living within our means. People will willingly pay for services when the value received equals or exceeds the cost. “
“ I believe that with responsible and realistic financial planning, we can elevate the services we provide and establish a secure financial future without wishing for guardian angels or digging unfairly into our members’ pockets. “
Clubs are the Future - He believes that “the clubs recruit our new members and volunteers and foster enthusiasm and respect for the sport.”
He believes that US Fencing’s “success depends on building an environment in which clubs can thrive. This means providing clubs and club owners with efficiently delivered tools and services that help entrepreneurs start and manage financially sound programs.”
“Most urgently, we need to develop and implement additional resources and programs for both new and established coaches. Without healthy clubs, effective coaches and energized volunteers, we will not succeed.”
Treating Volunteers with Respect - “Treating our volunteers with respect, acknowledging their contributions, and fostering members who seek to join the volunteer community are essential to the future health of the organization and growth of the sport we all love.”
“To this end, for example, I am especially proud of my role in reforming our methods of assisting and managing our referee corps, and in particular in giving referees a meaningful voice in the selection of Referees’ Commission leadership. “
Board Leadership - “ Board support of our professional staff and ensuring that the National Office operates knowledgeably, responsively and effectively are essential to moving the organization forward. The staff will look to the Board for direction and the means to carry out their charge.”
“The Board needs to facilitate staff’s ability to function without interfering in their work, while at the same time making sure that established policies and programs are effectively implemented.”
Technology and systems are not answers in and of themselves, but they can be tools for implementing solutions. We should embrace developments that make us better at providing services and maintaining accountability.
FENCING PARENTS’ OPINION
Don Alperstein articulates a very good grasp of several of the key skills, personal qualities and areas of expertise that are pre-requisites for an effective Board member.
Governance on ethics and integrity issues is a 1st priority for him. This is material for the membership, given the lack of transparency from the Board on decisions affecting the best interests of the membership.
While not directly addressing the major issues Fencing Parents’ has repeatedly brought up in our articles about use of NAC funds, Don Alperstein does talk about the need to address the issue of using members’ money wisely and responsibly, and not to dig unfairly into member’s pockets. He gets that US Fencing must be a great deal more sensitive and respectful in how it treats money obtained from the membership.
Don Alperstein addresses the needs of the clubs, coaches, referees and other volunteers who keep the sport of fencing going. Fencing Parents knows that there are ongoing issues of lack of support from US Fencing for clubs, coaches other members of the fencing community in addition to the lack of training programs for referees. We agree with him that clubs are the future. Acknowledgement of these issues from a current Board member, and a candidate for the Board is a great step in the right direction.
Acknowledging that the US Fencing Board is there to provide leadership to staff and to oversee the implementation of policies and programs is important. Understanding that the Board does not involve itself in day to day operations is equally important.
In the 21st century, understanding that technology is a tool to improve systems and efficiency is very important, and Don Alperstein understands that.
WHO IS HE?
The successful Head Coach of Columbia University’s NCAA Fencing Team, Michael Aufrichtig, previously served as an elected member of the US Fencing Board under the Elite Coach category (2014 - 2016), which position has since been abolished.
He is now running for an elected at-large director seat on the US Fencing Board.
WHY IS HE RUNNING?
He is “passionate about USA Fencing and would be honored to serve on the board again and contribute to its exciting upward progression. “
“ I would love to share my experience and knowledge to advance USA Fencing’s mission for the next two years. “
WHAT ARE HIS PRIORITIES?
Winning the Olympic Games and World Championships
Growing fencing from the grassroots up at all levels, Youth, Senior, Junior Veterans. He believes US Fencing is doing a great job on this front in introducing fencing to American youth.
He wants US Fencing to continue “implementing more programs to help our college graduates and Veteran fencers remain involved in fencing on an elite and recreational level.”
He wants to help clubs and coaches by implementing “initiatives to support business owners of clubs and NCAA programs, such as providing more coaching clinics, financial support, publicity, and overall championing these institutions to reach their full potential as valuable opportunities to expand exposure for the sport.”
Coach and referee recruitment, paired with formalized and systematic education
“There is a strong interest in coaching and officiating and we need to continue recruitment, education and solidify our system in place to have the largest, most educated pool of coaches and officials in the world.”
Adequately support and consider the needs of fencing parents and youth fencers by giving them the quality services and attention they deserve
“Approximately 60% of USA Fencing’s current membership is comprised of fencers under the age of 18. It is essential to listen, collect and respond to fencing parents’ feedback and needs.”
FENCING PARENTS’ OPINION
Michael Aufrichtig has very big goals for US Fencing.
His statements indicate that he is paying attention to some of the major challenges faced by US Fencing going into the future, and has clearly indicated that he prioritizes these issues for resolution.
Even though he articulates few specifics, he is listening and is aware of the community’s needs.
He recognizes that there is need for both club and coach support at multiple levels. And he acknowledges that the collective voice of 60% of US Fencing’s membership (parents of fencers under the age of 18) should be listened to. We are with him on this one.
So, where do we place Michael Aufrichtig in terms of the requisite skills, personal qualities and areas of expertise that will make him an effective Board member.
Unlike Donald Alperstein, Michael Aufrichtig has only spent 2 years on the US Fencing Board previously. He is not a current Board member. His track record at US Fencing is short, and makes it difficult to assess.
However, Michael Aufrichtig’s track record of coaching leadership and organizational leadership outside of US Fencing is impressive.
As Head Coach of Columbia University’s NCAA Fencing Team since 2011, he engineered a big turnaround for the men’s and women’s teams, to produce numerous NCAA victories, and has been voted Ivy League Coach of the Year several times. He is an “out of the box” thinker when looking for solutions, and is a demonstrably successful people motivator.
As the volunteer Chairman of the New York Athletic Club’s (NYAC) fencing program for more than 12 years, Michael Aufrichtig has overseen an immensely successful program producing numerous National champions, World Champions and Olympians who have won Olympic medals. 6 of the 24 (25%) of the 2019 US World Team come from NYAC.
Before becoming a full time coach at Columbia University, Michael Aufrichtig was a sales and marketing executive in the technology industry for many years. He holds a degree in Marketing from NYU’s Stern Business School.
Michael’s leadership skills as a coach are very clear. His organizational and motivational skills are also clear given his success at NYAC. Let’s see if he can utilize these skills to help lead at the organizational level at US Fencing. His “out of the box” problem solving skills would be valuable in guiding US Fencing towards an effective resolution of its challenges.
He is aware of and has articulated his priorities towards meeting 2 very important community needs, that of training and educating coaches and referees, and that of listening to and supporting the needs of fencers under the age of 18.
His experience in the business world will give the Board insight into how for-profit organizations solve problems, and his specific sales and marketing experience will add insight to how outreach for sponsorships can be executed.
While there are concerns expressed by some that an NCAA coach should not be on the Board due to conflicts of interest, Fencing Parents does not see this as an issue. Several Board members are also members of specific communities in the fencing world, including coaches, NCAA coach, parent of an Olympian, former Olympians and elite athletes.
Being a member of a specific group in the fencing community is not of itself present a conflict of interest, so long as the rules of good governance are always observed.
The conflicts of interest that we should concern ourselves with are primarily financial in nature, where Board members, Officers and Committee members have decision making authority over contracts and business in which they personally stand to gain financially. This is not an issue here.
WHO IS SHE?
A 3 time Olympian, World Team bronze medalist, emergency room physician, fencing club owner and current Board member, Ann Marsh Senic juggles many roles in her life.
Ann Senic first joined the Board as an Athlete Director, who was selected by the Athlete Council to be one of its’ Board representatives, and served for a year in this capacity. She was then elected as an at-large Director in 2017, and is currently serving that 2 year term.
She is running for an at-large Director position on the Board.
WHY IS SHE RUNNING?
Fencing is her lifelong passion.
During her thirty plus years in the sport, “fencing has exploded in popularity. This is the time for our sport to shine. We have a golden opportunity to insert fencing into the curriculum in every school in the country. But our growth comes at a price - not all participants can compete at national events. Even division 2 and 3 events can be very challenging. Our competitions need more space, parents are frustrated and the increase in the number of qualified referees has been outpaced by the growth in the number of competitors. These are challenges I am happy to have - fencing can be a life changing experience for so many from all ages and backgrounds. I want to find an appropriate way for all fencers to compete and enjoy our sport.”
WHAT ARE HER PRIORITIES?
To make fencing a mainstream sport in the United States
“We need to continue the push to include fencing in the curriculum in elementary and high schools as well as increase the number of NCAA collegiate fencing programs.”
Increase fundraising and donation for USA Fencing to improve multiple aspects of our sport, both domestically and internationally.
“We need resources to expand our referee pool, to improve our depth at the senior level, and continue our success at the youth and veteran levels.”
To make the United States the strongest fencing power in the world
“This includes successful programs for our fencers at all levels, including a high school circuit, fun regional recreational programs, as well as continuing youth development, and world dominance for all of our international teams. “
FENCING PARENTS’ OPINION
Ann Senic’s passion for fencing shines through in her candidate statement. She has big dreams for fencing, both domestically and internationally, and is the only one of the 3 candidates to address the issue of fundraising.
She identifies some of the important challenges facing US Fencing, including her view that “not all participants can compete at national events. Even division 2 and 3 events can be very challenging.” This really is an issue of access to the best coaches who tend to be concentrated on the 2 coasts, though there are several pockets of excellence scattered around the country.
She recognizes that “our competitions need more space, parents are frustrated and the increase in the number of qualified referees has been outpaced by the growth in the number of competitors.” These are challenges she identifies as needing resolution.
Ann Senic sees many of the challenges currently facing US Fencing as the growing pains of rapid growth, challenges that she believes are solvable.
So where does Ann Senic stand on skills, personal qualities and areas of expertise that would make her an effective Board member?
She has tremendous passion and a big vision for fencing in the United States. She articulates some of the issues that are challenging for both US Fencing and the communities they affect. Her organizational involvement at her own club and within her club’s region in the Mid-West gives her a grassroots view of the strong interest in fencing among youth fencers in her region.
All 3 candidates are passionate about fencing. Each of the 3 candidates presents both strengths and weaknesses. We have to ask if each one of them understands the strategic nature of their responsibilities.
Effective leadership at the Board level requires vision, clarity of thought, insightful thinking and the ability to recommend and take realistic action that effectively resolves challenges and moves US Fencing forward in the fulfillment of it’s mission.
2 out of the 3 candidates expressed a priority to be make the US the best in the world at fencing. This is a very admirable goal.
We have to ask though: How will this work out?
In the rising generation of fencers who are still Youth, Cadet and Junior fencers, the acquisition of their fencing skills and training are entirely funded by their parents, with a few exceptions. The fencers fortunate enough to live in metropolitan areas, with access to the world class American and foreign fencing coaches who have made the United States their home, are the fencers with the best chance of rising to the top in the next generation.
Every parent who has funded their fencer through the Cadet travel team, Junior World Cup team, and attendance at Senior Grand Prix and World Cups knows how expensive this can become. Even those fencers who do not travel internationally, but attend NACs regularly can end up costing their parents very substantial amounts of money.
If you have a child who has reached Cadet age, your total fencing bill likely ranges somewhere between $30,000 to $45,000 a year for training, equipment, strip coaching and travel to NACs. If your fencer travels internationally, you are faced with a bill that increases by another $10,000 to $20,000 a year. We are talking about parent support that ranges between $30,000 and $75,000 a year over a period of 4 to 6 years just so your child can fence competitively. That’s a cost of $120,000 to $180,000 at the low end, to a cost of $300,000 to $450,000 at the high end over those 4 to 6 years
Fencing at a nationally competitive level is an incredibly expensive sport. It is fast becoming accessible only to fencers with parents who have a high income, are personally wealthy or are willing to make a lot of sacrifices so that their fencers can pursue a dream and/or an Ivy League admission.
There is and always will be an enormous amount of parent support before US Fencing takes over the financial support (with NAC surpluses), of fencers who actually makes it as one of the 24 members of Senior Team USA.
We find it very disturbing that the Board candidates make no acknowledgement of the massive financial support provided by parents or the role of parents in making the fencing eco-system possible at all. Parents are invisible and side-lined in this whole process. They should be part of the strategic plan and have input as well.
US Fencing does not magically produce champions out of nowhere nor should they claim sole credit for them. Without the foundational support provided by parents, and the incredible training these fencers receive from their incredible personal coaches in clubs around the country, US Fencing would not have champions to show-off.
Recreational fencing at the high school level will never produce the world beating champions that US Fencing wants. Unless, of course, the plan is for US Fencing to identify the promising talent, pluck them out for high caliber training and pay for it entirely with donated funds!
There seems to be a disconnect between the vision and the reality.
It is also important to note that there are no sports programs in elementary schools, but there are plenty of club programs in all sorts sports available to elementary school children. Again clubs play a pivotal role in bringing the sport of fencing to young fencers, and clubs should be supported to attract young fencers to the sport.
The skills, personal qualities and areas of expertise we spelled out earlier should be a guide in how to evaluate each candidate and assess how they can be effective leaders on the Board.
You can use the Board Candidate Evaluation Matrix in your assessment of which candidates to back.
Vote wisely and make it count!
Please share this article with everyone who you think is eligible to vote and should read this article.
Voting takes place from May 8 to May 29