VFA Summer News August 2021

I hope you are enjoying your summer. I finally have an update from our host schools, and unfortunately it is not what we had hoped for.

1. FIRST THE BAD NEWS
Mary Hogan School: District policy continues to be no outside bodies in the building (not even parents) due to the delta variant and the danger it poses to the largely unvaccinated elementary school population. This will continue until community transmission rates drop substantially and/or vaccines are available for young children.

Charlotte Central School: They used the reduced attendance last school year to begin a major renovation project which is not complete. Their gym will not be available to outside user groups until construction is complete (earliest projection of this: Thanksgiving, if the project stays on schedule). This is apart from any covid-related policy they may have.

So, our exile continues....(and honestly, with the contagiousness of delta, I think we are safer outside for a while longer yet). Read on for a completely unofficial, subject to change, plan for this fall (not the same as last season, just to keep things fresh!).

2. FALL FENCING - OUTDOORS AGAIN (BUT WITH SOME DIFFERENCES)
Here is my current thinking:
a. I want to teach beginner classes in some form this fall. I have too many potential students expressing interest to accommodate them via private lessons, and I don't think private instruction is the best way to start.
b. I want to better serve the needs of our most committed teen and adult fencers, a.k.a. the Competitive Squad.

With this in mind, I have decided to experiment with a new practice schedule and class structure, starting outdoors and transitioning inside if we are able. In each town, I want to offer this: Practice 1: Level 1 class (with concurrent open fencing for experienced fencers), preceded or followed by Level 2/3 blended class. The new Level 2/3 will be similar to what our outdoor classes have been this past year, with a focus on technique. Sometimes all skill levels will be doing the same thing (allowing the more skilled fencers to mentor newer ones) and sometimes I may split the room and ask the Level 3 fencers to do more challenging variations on the drills.
Practice 2: Competitive Squad practice. This will be a coached practice, not just open fencing, but with the emphasis on tactics, bouting games and competitive challenges, rather than repetitive technique drills (which by the way, none of us are too good to benefit from....).

No final decisions yet on actual schedule, but I propose something like this:
Saturday (raindate Sunday, cancelled if weather unsuitable both days)
Charlotte:
10-11:15 Level 2/3 class
11:30-1 Level 1 class, open fencing for experienced fencers
Middlebury:
2:30-3:45 Level 2/3 class
4-5:30 Level 1 class, open fencing for experienced fencers

Wednesday (no rainday, it happens or it doesn't)
Middlebury 5-7 p.m Comp Squad
Thursday (no rainday, it happens or it doesn't)
Charlotte 5-7 p.m Comp Squad
I realize this is not a great time frame for adults with regular work schedules, but as the days get shorter, we just can't hold later practices and have daylight. I am hoping we will have enough fencers with flexible schedules to get this off the ground. Once we start to meet we can see who is coming and when they are available, maybe even move a little earlier in the afternoon for better daylight and more sensible dinner hours for families.

Likely locations (pending approvals from CCS and from Midd town rec): CCS outdoor basketball court, E. Middlebury rec park (same as in the spring).

When (if...) we transition back to indoor fencing, the schedule could continue as
Middlebury
Mondays 6:30-7:45 Level 1 (with concurrant open fencing)
7:45-9 Level 2/3 class
Wednesdays 7-9 Competitive Squad
Charlotte
Tuesdays 6:30-7:45 Level 1 (with concurrant open fencing)
7:45-9 Level 2/3 class
Thursdays 7-9 Competitive Squad

Note: All beginners who started via private lessons during the pandemic are invited to join the Level 2/3 class!

Another note: with the presence of unvaccinated youngsters in the club and the growing evidence that even vaccinated folks can contract and transmit the delta variant, we will begin the season with our face cloaks once again firmly in place over our mouths and noses whenever we are not socially distanced, including during fencing drills and bouts. Let's protect each other and protect our kids. Should community transmission rates drop significantly, we may be able to relax this requirement for fully vaccinated Competitive Squad groups, but not to begin with. You know the drill by now: stay home and get tested if you are sick or possibly exposed to covid.

Remember, NOTHING is official yet, and I expect to be a moving target for some time to come as we flex with the covid situation, weather and school policies. I am thinking of starting practice around Sept 11 (again, unofficial, to be confirmed in early September).

3. VFA COMPETITIVE SQUAD - THE REBOOT!
My concept is that the Level 2/3 technique class and the Competitive Squad practice will be designed to compliment each other and give you a well-rounded training system. This will only fly if enough fencers commit to regular participation in both. As always, I encourage Middlebury and Charlotte fencers to visit each other's practices, especially for the Competitive Squad sessions.

Who can join Competitive Squad? All adult fencers in Level 2 or 3 (yes, even those who just started last spring, and those who have not been fencing since the pandemic hit). All teen fencers with at least a year of fencing training behind them. Occasionally (very rarely) I may also invite a talented and mature 12 year old as well. What matters to me more than your current skill level is your enthusiasm, commitment to the sport, and willingness to train regularly. The #1 thing that will make or break the Competitive Squad re-boot is attendance (within the constraints Mother Nature imposes). We need to be able to rely on each other to show up and put in the work, week in and week out. If that happens, I think all of us will become better fencers and have a lot of fun doing it.

In addition to your enthusiasm and energy, you need to own a full set of equipment for CS practices, including 2 electric weapons and 2 body cords (at a minimum) plus a lame for foil. We will be training regularly with electric equipment.

What do you all think of this concept? Who would be on board for Competitive Squad? Not sure if it would be a good fit for you or if you are skilled enough? Ask!

4. CLASS FEES, CLUB DUES, EQUIPMENT RENTAL, USFENCING MEMBERSHIPS
All students (including Level 1) will pay via punch cards, to allow for stopping/starting/rain outs/sick days. If you still have valid punches on your class card (the blue ones) from the spring, it's still good (they never expire). If you have unused punches on a private lesson card (the red ones), you may tranfer the remaining value ($20 per unused punch) to a class card, as I don't plan to resume private lessons immediately (they will eventually be back, although not for rank beginners). Class punch cards remain $60 each. Honor system - please keep track and purchase a new one when yours is used up. The PUA program that has kept me financially afloat during the pandemic ends in early September, so I am depending on you not to forget to pay your friendly neighborhood fencing coach.

If you attend both a Level 2/3 class and a Comp Squad practice in the same week, you only need to punch your card once. Ditto if you attend in both Middlebury and Charlotte on the same week. However, if you just attend one practice, whether it's Level 2/3 or CS, please punch your card.

I am going to re-institute equipment rental fees (with a deposit for signing out equipment) and club dues (as CCS does charge for the hoops court, plus we may be on the hook for higher rental fees if we find alternative spaces for this winter). Those will be paid for a several-month time period (ideally, in September, January and April, but it may not work out that way), regardless of how many card punches you use.

Some good news: US Fencing has instituted a new membership category, called "Access" which gives you the right to fence in all local tournaments (but not in regional or national ones - those still require a full competitive membership). At an affordable $25 per season, it meets our insurance requirements and costs significantly less than the $85 competitive membership. Don't forget that you need to renew your USFencing membership BEFORE our first practice of the season, in order for our club insurance to be valid. For most teen and adult fencers, I think the Access membership is a great deal, and you will be ready when sanctioned tournaments return (still working on that....). A noncompetitive membership ($10 per season) is fine for youth fencers (under age 13), or for those who don't want any kind of competitive membership - it does meet the insurance requirement (and can be upgraded at any point during the season if you need to).

Do you want to continue fencing this winter, after it gets too cold to fence outdoors? (assuming the covid situation allows, of course). It is clear that we definitely need an alternative to Charlotte Central School, and might need an alternative to Mary Hogan School as well. In order to offer the full VFA program (two evenings a week in each location), we need a pretty large space (basketball court or similar), with a suitable floor (ideally wood or something made for athletics), at an affordable price. I especially need help searching in southern Chittenden County (anything from Burlington south). Do you know of a suitable school, community center or church hall that might be available to rent from late October through March? I have already reached out to Shelburne town gym (I have a contact there due to occasionally using it when CCS was busy, no answer yet). Our chances of finding a location are much higher if one of us has a personal, trusted connection: a school you work at or your kid attends, your church, your town rec department. Would you be willing to help with research and/or reaching out to possible venues? I am not looking for suggestions of places for me to cold call - I am looking for club members to actively help me find a space or at least make the initial personal introduction. We also need spaces to host indoor tournaments, which could very well be the same as our alternative practice spaces.

There are a couple of other things you can do to help the club this fall:
-Buy your own basic fencing equipment if you borrowed in the spring, to free up rental equipment for new students. With shared equipment no longer acceptable due to covid, I plan to prioritize equipment rental for new Level 1 beginners, and only make rental equipment available to returning students once I see what I have left over (which I can't promise will be in your size). Besides, it's so much nicer to have your own equipment, with a front-zip jacket, your favorite type of grip, etc, and you won't have to worry about rental fees or losing your deposit for returning it late. The best deal is to buy a beginner package with mask, glove, jacket, underarm protector and weapon. A guide to buying equipment can be found here, ask if you have questions:
http://www.vtfencingalliance.org/old_posts/EquipmentBuyGuide.htm

-Renew your USFencing membership before attending the first practice of the season. Our insurance policy requires that all fencers hold at least a noncompetitive membership in order to be valid. Please don't make me have to check up on and nag you. All memberships expire on July 31 annually, unless you have a life membership, or you joined for the first time after April 1 (spring beginners, you are in luck, you don't have to do anything until next summer). Renew your membership on line at https://www.usafencing.org/membership (click on "join or renew"). If you have forgotten or lost your user name/password to log in, call them at 719.866.4511 (in Colorado, so 2 hours earlier there). They can reset your password and renew your membership over the phone. In fact, some people find this the easiest way to renew as the website is not that user friendly. When renewing, list your club as "Vermont Fencing Alliance" (NOT Middlebury or Charlotte) and your division as Green Mountain.