Shortly after attending the WFencing annual board meeting last summer (2022), I received an invite to hop on to an “Allies Committee” Zoom call. Thoroughly intrigued and wanting to do more, AND as it was not too long after having read several very cool blog posts regarding Allyship from this group, I offered to write a piece on how Division Officers and Divisions of USA Fencing could foster more inclusive and equitable environments for their membership -- fencers and those who support fencers as professional members of USA Fencing (referees, coaches, armorers, BC people.) Seven plus months, a USA Fencing Board of Directors election, a death in the family, and at least three revisions later, HERE I AM!
I’ve been the Chair of the Virginia Division of USA Fencing for over 11 years. We are the 3rd largest Division and honestly, things operate smoothly most days. We’ve been fortunate to have great volunteers who have served our fencing community well over the past 20+ years. That groundwork has made the job easier in many ways and has paved the way for us to do more. I also serve on two national committees, USA Fencing’s FenceSafe Committee as well as the Division Resources Committee, and have been very involved with the By-law and Operating Guide project that every Division Chair and Officer throughout the country is facilitating with the National Offices at this writing.
My work on the By-law and Operating Guide project thus far has involved several one-on-one meetings with Division Officers, and as part of every meeting I have been asked, “Other than the costs of running our annual Junior Olympic and Summer National qualifiers, what COULD the Division spend our money on?” Officially, USA Fencing’s statement on Division spending is:
Money held by Divisions, however obtained, belongs to, and should be treated as USA Fencing assets; and
The Divisions cannot do anything with USA Fencing money that would jeopardize USA Fencing's 501(c)(3) status or its standing as a National Governing Body.
With the above in mind, the VA Division executive committee has felt that if investing in a program helps grow the membership or the breadth of the sport in the Division and doesn’t jeopardize USA Fencing’s 501(c)(3) status, let’s go for it. It’s important to remember that efforts to build a more inclusive and equitable fencing community require a long-term commitment of resources and ongoing effort and the division needs to continually assess progress, set goals, and adapt strategies to ensure lasting change.
One example: We have done our best to hold two beginner referee clinics every year – for as long as I can remember because the need is real. Over the years to support referee development:
We will reimburse both the referee clinic fee and the USA Fencing membership upgrade fee with Division funds for freshly minted Division referees AFTER they referee three events in the DC, MD, NC, and VA areas.
We gave grants to those financially unable to pay for the clinic in advance given the same tournament commitment.
We committed to hiring a female Certified Referee Instructor (CRI) for at least half of our clinics going forward. (We need MORE female CRIs, please!)
I’m proud of the investment we’ve made toward referee development locally, we truly have a terrific cadre, and I am positive that these initiatives and others continue to support their development.
So, here are some thoughts on what divisions and their leaders can do to leverage existing resources to promote diversity, inclusion, and ultimately create a better environment for everyone within the boundaries of your Division. In some of these examples, there isn’t even a financial cost:
Clinics Clinics Clinics:
Hold Beginner Referee, Armorer, and Coaching Clinics. Hire women and people of color to run them. Host those clinics at clubs or community centers that support or are in underserved communities. Leverage your resources on both sides of these clinics to set them up, hire great people, and offer grants and/or financial assistance if need be specifically targeting the participation of women and individuals from underserved communities or communities of color. Alleviate some or all financial burden associated if possible, and it will encourage greater representation and participation long term. It’s a Win Win Win!
Hire locally as best you can for both of your qualifiers and other Division events. Encourage member clubs to utilize the cadre the division has invested in as often as possible. Reach out to Regional and National event organizers to get your cadre hired and observed for events held in/near your Division. (Virginia held five regional events this season with at least four other events held in DC, MD, and NC). Hire a Certified Referee Observer (CRO) to support your cadre at your larger Division events (if you have them) or at the clubs that hold the largest events. (We need MORE female CROs, please!)
Member Clubs and Their Communities:
Support your clubs that are already investing their resources to grow fencing in underserved communities and create opportunities for other clubs to subsidize new programs to develop fencing in underserved communities and/or communities of color. This may include the use of equipment owned by the division at community centers, or could be an investment supporting new USA Fencing memberships for these new students. Divisions offering grants for USA Fencing memberships need to know that care must be taken to ensure that the use of Division funds is equitable and for a legitimate USA Fencing purpose such as introducing under-served communities to the sport through grants or outreach programs. (USA Fencing would need to approve any programs the Divisions operate under these premises.)
Facilitate FenceSafe Youth Workshops:
This past fall, USA Fencing sent out a communication seeking “parents, volunteers, vet fencers, and others who want to ensure this sport offers a safe and healthy environment for our fencers” to become Youth FenceSafe Education Facilitators. The intention of this effort was to set off a process where these facilitators (me, included) work with clubs in their division/region and set up presentations that initiate conversations with the youth fencing community, their parents, and club coaches regarding the US Center for SafeSport/USA Fencing’s Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policy (MAAPP). I have felt strongly for some time that the Divisions need to get more involved locally to talk about FenceSafe issues and that these one-on-few conversations will create a richer understanding of what is appropriate (and not), will create safe spaces for those who need them most, and will lower barriers to discuss an issue that few like to think about let alone talk about until it’s too late.
Through the aforementioned By-Law and Operating Guide project, USA Fencing will soon publish a Division Resources Spending Guideline document. Some of the ideas presented here and already implemented in the Virginia Division will be included therein. There are other opportunities in that document, including ideas for how Divisions can support high school and college fencing programs. I encourage you to read it and to ask your Division to explore the opportunities.
Finally, I understand that not all Divisions have financial resources to commit to some of what has been written above. However, I believe there are some easy opportunities where Division leaders can promote diversity, inclusion, to be an Ally, that do not require financial resources. So, get creative, work with your clubs, and lead the way. By fostering a culture of inclusivity and equality, Divisions can become better allies to women, underserved communities, and communities of color, leading to a more diverse and vibrant fencing community.
Do not hesitate to reach out to me directly with questions or comments.
Semi-retired Veteran Foil fencer, Rich proudly serves the USA Fencing community in the following capacities - USA Fencing Division Resources Committee Member since 2014, USA Fencing FenceSafe Committee Member since 2016, National Bout Committee Staff 2011-2014, 2018-Current, VA Division Executive Committee 2010-2016, 2018-Current, Chair 2012-2016, 2018-Current, Organizer and Bout Committee chair of multiple Regional Tournaments (ROCs, RYCs, and SYCs). Rich was awarded the USA Fencing Service to Divisions Award in 2019, and received the USA Fencing Spirit of the Sport in 2021. Grassroots Organizer and Volunteer, Dance Dad, Suburban Farmer.