Schools level fencing forms the basis of the sport within a region. It enables professional coaches to parade the results of their bread and butter work in schools, gives those who are perhaps not confident enough to enter a Leon Paul Junior Series event to try a competition and allows parents to take their children to competitions without having to travel the length and breadth of the country.
The North West region used to have a number of school level tournaments but unfortunately these declined and became essentially moribund. However, these have been resuscitated as a series with significant success.
There used to be a number of tournaments run for schools-level fencers in the North West, these included:
Cheshire Schools — run in Chester this comprised three foil tournaments and a three weapon tournament. The age groups were odd years, i.e. under-11, under-13 and under-15
Lancashire Schools — this was normally run in Blackpool and consisted of a single tournament at all three weapons. There age groups were again odd years, but cadet and junior competitions were also run.
North West Junior Series — this consisted of a variable number of tournaments run across the region, again the age groups were odd years. The emphasis was on foil but some tournaments also included competitions for the other weapons.
All of these were run separately, though results from each fed into a complex (and ferociously difficult to administer) ranking scheme designed to select fencers for the Cadet Winton Tournament.
All of the tournaments were dependent on local volunteers to run them and though attempts were made to spread the running of at least the NWJS across the clubs of the region the number of people actually running the tournaments remained small.
With the retirement of some of the volunteers, the departure of others and a committee that was not committed to running them the tournaments fell into decline.
The New North West Junior Series
With the advent of a new committee in 2011 there was an attempt to put a new, unified series of competitions together, one or two were run in 2011 but the series itself started in 2012.
Design of the Tournaments
New clubs had started up in the region specialising in épée and sabre, a series of tournaments for foil only was not therefore considered to be satisfactory, each tournament had to be for six weapons.
The next consideration was age groups. Experience from the previous incarnation of the tournaments and of the BYC qualifiers we would almost certainly end up mixing competitors if we ran many different age groups. But limiting the number of age groups would mean that younger fencers could end up fencing much older fencers.
We also wanted to avoid the situation where we had different equipment requirements, i.e. blade sizes, CEN levels for plastrons, and conductive or non-conductive bibs for foil
In the end we chose to go with under-11 and under-14 age groups with the understanding that we would probably have to mix boys and girls but hopefully would be able to avoid mixing age groups.
The age groups are not prescriptive. Organisers can run other age group competitions, providing they run the core competitions.
How Many, and Where?
Initially the aim was to run five tournaments in the year, however Oliver Allmand-Smith of Stormguard UK agreed to provide sponsorship and this has allowed us to increased this to six. These are run two per term, timed to allow coaches to ready fencers for the the tournaments, to avoid exams and other events such as LPJS, EYC or BYC. Given the fluidity of the wider tournament scene that latter is particularly difficult.
Any club in the region can bid to run an event, the only exception being the last in the series which is at Salle Kiss, the home club of the sponsor.
Some club secretaries are excellent when it comes to passing on information, some decidedly less good. To ensure the maximum entry the aim was to communicate with parents and fencers directly and avoid the email or paper that never gets passed on.
This meant using the Internet as the method for communication. Fortunately the region has a web site which uses an extensible framework which made setting up online entry easy (the software used for the regional web site is Joomla! The online entry system is a package called DT register). No development was necessary apart from the addition of pertinent information for tournaments, such as date of birth, club affiliation and BFA number to the standard registration form supplied by the package.
It also makes centralisation of the collection of entry fees possible, rather than relying on the club running the tournament.
Another advantage is that it also allows an online list of people already registered to be seen.
Finally, since submission of an entry means that you have to provide an email address it means that we can use these to build a mailing list.
Running the Tournament
As the number of people capable of running tournaments within the region is limited we have instituted a "roving DT"; for those clubs unable to run a Directoire Technique. The club remains responsible for booking the hall, laying it out and providing scoring equipment. It is also responsible for checking in, arranging for referees and any other necessary personnel. The flying DT arrives with laptop, printer, program for running the tournament (This is the American program Fencing Time originally at versions 3.0 but now at version 4.0) and entry lists, runs the tournament and provides the results for upload to the regional web site.
In these days of social media instant access to information is key. Results of the tournaments are normally available on the following day. However, experiments are being undertaken to see if live results can be produced as the tournaments are run. This relies on the availability of WiFi at the venues and the export capability of the program used to run the tournaments.
Because the tournaments are run as a series it is vital that fencers can look at the results from all of the competitions. The web master for the region has developed code that allows the results to be uploaded to a database. This can be interrogated for results by competition, by name or by club. Results are available not just for the current year, but for each of the years the series has run.
Currently only overall results are available, it is not possible to see the results for a particular poule or DE fight. However, we are experimenting with providing a live results service which will give this kind of detail for the latest tournament to be fenced.
At the end of the year trophies are presented to the winners of the series. This means we have to have a ranking scheme to decide who has the best set of results.
The ranking scheme uses:
All the tournaments for ranking points, rather than a subset. The aim here was to avoid the situation where the predominant fencers gained sufficient ranking points in the first few competitions to ensure a high place and then not fencing in the later competitions
A formula which calculates the points as the number of fencers taking part in a competition times a position weighting factor. In the first year the series was run the weighting factor was too aggressive and made it difficult for fencers to overtake the the series leaders. This has been changed in the second year and makes for a much more exciting series with lots of position swapping.
The rankings are available online in the same way as the results. The code that was developed to show the results also has routines to show the overall results with the ability to drill down to see what competitions, places and points make up the ranking.
The series has had a number of successes:
The average entry during the first full year of the series was in the low to mid sixties. So far in 2013 the entry is in the high seventies to low eighties. The highest entries are in foil and sabre with little difference between the under-11 and under-14 age groups. Boys' entries are higher for all the weapons except for foil and this has led to the necessity of mixing boys and girls.
While it would be difficult to assign everything to the series it is noticeable that BYC qualifier entries have increased by some 20% since the series started.
In getting the series off the ground some clubs had to run multiple tournaments. For the second year each tournament is being run by a separate club.
One of the major costs of running a tournament is that of hiring the hall. Thanks to Oliver Allmand-Smith of Stormguard Ltd. there is some sponsorship to cover at least part of the cost of hall hire.
The series provides an occasion on which hub development can be hung. We have already run informal sessions on armoury and introduction to refereeing. A seminar on Hungarian coach education is planned, as is a session on the running of competitions.
The online entry system has provided a list of email addresses which has been used to build mailing lists not only informing subscribers of the NWJS tournaments but also other events occurring in the region.
Not so much failures, mainly difficulties in actually running the series
The series is now getting to the limit of what can be run in a day. In future it may be necessary to limit the entry in both foil and sabre.
While entries for the foil and sabre are strong, allowing multiple poules or at least a poule unique, the same cannot be said for the épée. For the under-11 category this is not unexpected. However the numbers in the under-14 category are disappointing and we normally end up mixing not only boys and girls but age groups as well.
One of the requirements for running a smooth tournament is to have a sufficient number of referees. Ensuring that there are enough is a perennial problem, even though the level required is not high.
Although there are 30+ clubs in the North West the entry is normally from a small selection of these. Expanding the number of clubs involved and hence the base of fencers is a priority
Similarly although we have managed to get six clubs to run tournaments this has required a certain amount of arm twisting. Expanding the number of clubs willing to run a tournament is also a priority
The series is reliant on a small core of people to actually run it. Two of these intend stepping down, which will leave the series without a coordinator or competition organiser. Succession planning needs to be put in to place to make sure that we do not revert to the previous, moribund state. The intention of the regional committee is to put in place a NWJS coordinator for the series and a hub development initiative on competition organisation is being considered. The aim is for clubs to run their own DT, rather than relying on a regionally provided one.
The series is also reliant on the web master who has incorporated the online entry system into the framework and provided the code to do the results and rankings. Again, the web master aims to step down and succession planning for one or more replacements is required. This has been noted by the regional committee and a replacement is to be sought.
This is a slightly extended and revised version of an article that was distributed to all of the English regional hubs and published in The Sword.