Donald Alperstein

At Large Board Member Candidate

What are your top three (3) priorities for the USA Fencing Board? *

 

 

In no particular order, here are three things that I hope to accomplish in the two years of the upcoming At-Large director term:

 

•        Participating in USA Fencing’s recovery from the Covid pandemic and planning for the future by supporting clubs and ensuring the continuing development of coaches and coach education.

•        Advocating for and adopting policies that advance USA Fencing’s goals of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, in particular, but not exclusively, in the area that I know best and where I have the greatest influence: the referee corps.

•        Creating an ombudsman position for USA Fencing by which communication with USA Fencing can be facilitated and issues can be addressed before they become full-blown grievances.

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Tell us more in depth about how you plan to approach issues of racial and gender equity in USA Fencing. You may use our WFencing Report Card to help you. https://wfencing.org/programs/report-card/ Please feel free to refer to any of the issues raised within the report card to focus your answer. *

 

•        Participating in USA Fencing’s recovery from the Covid pandemic and planning for the future by supporting clubs and ensuring the continuing development of coaches and coach education.

 

Clubs and coaches are the future of USA Fencing. Clubs and the coaches who own and staff them recruit new fencers and foster enthusiasm and respect for the sport. We need to help clubs recover from the Covid pandemic and then build and maintain an environment in which clubs thrive. This includes taking steps to assure that we have a pipeline for new qualified coaches and providing clubs and club owners with tools and services that help entrepreneurs start and manage financially sound programs supported by services efficiently delivered from the National Office. I firmly believe that much of our current competitive success and membership growth is a result of our Coaches College in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and that the failure to replace it poses a long-term threat to fencing in the United States. We need more coaches, and more diverse coaches, and we need financially stable clubs to support continued success.

 

Both the WFencing Report Card and USA Fencing’s outside DEI Audit focus on non-profit sports organizations and not private businesses. Unfortunately, this means they do not provide information about women and minority owned businesses in fencing. For the most part, these will prove to be fencing clubs. The link between club entrepreneurship and coaching is clear and undeniable, and the dearth of female coaches noted in the Report Card would no doubt be reflected in club ownership. USA Fencing can address this disparity with a two-pronged approach. First, coaching education that focuses on recruitment and that supports the development of diverse candidates, including women, LGBTQ individuals, people of color, and other marginalized groups, will have several salutary effects. It will result in a coaching cadre that better mirrors the membership of USA Fencing; will create a more welcoming environment for new fencers who see people like themselves in skilled and influential positions; and it will provide a solid foundation for those who have or wish to establish and grow fencing clubs. Second, USA Fencing can help coaches and other entrepreneurs establish and build profitable clubs. We have already done the “Club in a Box” tool and have a staff person whose duties include club support. USA Fencing’s tax-exempt status limits what it can do. (For example, during the pandemic we explored a program to make bridge loans to struggling clubs but were advised by tax counsel that doing so would jeopardize our 501(c)(3) designation.) But we need to be creative in finding ways to help clubs recover from Covid era and thrive in the future. Perhaps we can partner with a financial institution that can make favorable loans in exchange for sponsor status. It’s a big world with lots of possibilities, and we need to explore them.

 

•        Advocating for and adopting policies that advance USA Fencing’s goals of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, in particular, but not exclusively, in the area that I know best and where I have the greatest influence: the referee corps.

 

I intend to develop and advance programs to expand and diversify the referee ranks; create and maintain a safe environment for referees that is free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse; and continue working to improve referee working conditions and compensation. DEIB is an organization-wide undertaking, but as liaison to the Referee Commission, a high-level working referee and a mentor of upcoming national and international referees, this is the area where I can be most effective and have the greatest impact.

 

As with coaches, our referee corps does not reflect the composition of our membership. I have worked with many female referees and referees of color as colleagues and as a mentor, and I understand, and least on the level that an outsider can, the stresses and obstacles they face. Our referee ranks are short on women and members of other traditionally marginalized communities because they often feel vulnerable, not only to aggressive athletes, coaches, and spectators, but too often are compromised by their fellow referees. Addressing this cultural problem is the first step in broadening the referee base. In addition, we need to incentivize individuals to become referees. Creating a welcoming, fostering, supporting, and rewarding environment is essential, but not sufficient. We need to reach out proactively and encourage those who might be reluctant to join the ranks. In a proper milieu, they will then want to recruit others to swell the cadre.

 

 

•        Creating an ombudsman position for USA Fencing by which communication with USA Fencing can be facilitated and issues can be addressed before they become full-blown grievances.

 

As membership grows and USA Fencing’s operations become more professionalized and complex, both of which are good developments, the distance between members and leadership has grown more attenuated. Among the things I have learned during my tenure on the Board, (a) communication between individual and club members on the one hand and USA Fencing on the other has become more difficult; and (b) unaddressed concerns become sources of frustration, grievance, and anger.

 

An intermediary who serves as an official conduit of communication and who has access to the individuals and groups who have information and solutions to problems can ameliorate both of these problems. Many successful organizations with large membership or client bases have found such positions to be of significant assistance to the organization and a boon to member services. Whether the role would resemble the USOPC Ombudsman position or be constructed on another model is an important question yet to be decided. But I believe that a neutral intermediary or member advocate with access to answers and to those who can create solutions will prove to an important member service and will allow USA Fencing’s volunteer leadership and professional staff to function more responsively, efficiently, and effectively. During my current term on the Board, after consultations with Donna Meyer, the editor of Fencingparents.org, I successfully advocated for a series of “town hall meetings” at several NACs and Championships where members could directly address concerns to USA Fencing officers, board members and staff. These meetings were well attended in person and remotely. And they were effective. An ombudsman would provide this kind of access on an ongoing basis. I believe this should be a paid position, and I believe when the pandemic recovery ends we will have the resources to fund it.

 

(Interestingly, and I’m getting a little wonky here, “The word ‘ombudsman’ is not gendered. The Swedish word from which the term is derived is ‘umbudsman.’ Literally ‘umbuds’ means ‘representative’ and ‘man’ means ‘the people,’ or representative of the people—ombudsman, ombudsperson, and ombuds are used interchangeably.” Quoted from https://ww.oberlin.edu/ombuds/what-is; see also, https://www.ombudsassociation.org/what-is-an-organizational-ombuds.)

 

In the interest of forthrightness, I must give some credit for this idea to Sherry Posthumous. She was a vice-president during my term as president of USA Fencing, and this was a pet project of hers. (Indeed, she is the one who first explained that “ombudsman” is a neutral word and she favored it over “ombudsperson,” which she considered contrived and clunky.) At the time, we did not have the means to implement her idea, and in the intervening years it wasn’t seen as that doable (and by many not as very important). But I have never stopped thinking about Sherry’s idea. And now is the time. The need and resources are there. I would like to name the position in Sherry’s honor, much like educational institutions recognize contributors by naming faculty chairs.

 

 

What else would you like the WFencing community to know? *

 

Women belong in fencing. Fencing needs women. Indeed, I owe my 40+ years of devotion to USA Fencing and to the sport to women. Of the few people who encouraged, mentored, pushed and motivated, me, three were women. I am indebted to Carla Mae Richards, Gerrie Baumgart and Sharon Everson. They served as my role models and showed me that women belong – no, women are integral – to the sport. Maybe due to their examples, I have been proud to serve as legal counsel and confidant to the three women presidents who succeeded me (Stacey Johnson, Nancy Anderson and Kalle Weeks). Perhaps it is because of them that I was motivated to mentor and advocate for many of our women referees, mainly in epee. Fencing is a microcosm of our society where institutionalized sexism and racism are sadly ingrained, but not inevitably. My professional mentor and hero, friend, and first employer as a lawyer was Aurel Kelly, the first female judge appointed to Colorado’s appellate courts. My law partner since the founding of Alperstein & Covell, P.C., in 1985 is Cynthia Covell, the best lawyer I know and best business partner anyone could want. I can’t do much to change all of society, but on the Board of USA Fencing I have worked, and will continue working, to make the fencing an inclusive, welcoming and bias free community. I hope you will support my bid for re-election so that I can continue that work.

 

 

Please provide any links and contact information for any questions that the membership may have. This will be published on the website and be made public.

 

Please feel free to contact me by email at dalp@aol.com. You can also visit my Facebook page for more information and can view my official candidate statement on USA Fencing's website at: https//cdn1.sportngin.com/attachments/document/f7f3-2421511/DonaldAlperstein.pdf#_ga=2.238330629.426132225.1619981993-1516003759.1613084802