First to 15: The USA Fencing Podcast

Maggie Dull Takes Us Inside the Bout Committee

Episode Summary

Today we’re going behind the scenes in the Bout Committee with a very special guest, Maggie Dull.

Episode Notes

In this episode of First to 15, we're joined by Maggie Dull. Maggie is an integral part of our fencing community, serving as one of the chairs of the Bout Committee at USA Fencing national tournaments, including right here at Summer Nationals. But Maggie's contribution to the sport stretches far beyond the Bout Committee alone.

Starting her fencing journey as a walk-on for Vassar College's varsity team in her senior year, Maggie quickly found her niche in the organizational side of the sport. She has served in roles from Oregon Division secretary to managing local and regional tournaments for the Maryland Division and several clubs. Since 2013, she has been a key figure in the National Bout Committee, stepping up as chair in 2014.

But that's not all. Maggie currently holds positions on USA Fencing's Tournament Committee, serves as the chair of the Black Card Review Group, and reads for the annual Absolute Fencing Gear All-American Team scholarship essays. She also leads the Western New York Division as their division chair.

Outside of fencing, Maggie brings her organizational prowess to the academic world, currently serving as the Director of Metadata Strategies and Interim Director of Digital Initiatives at the University of Rochester's River Campus Libraries. Come July 17, she'll step into a new role as Interim Assistant Dean of Scholarly Curation and Resources. In addition to all this, she also lectures for the University of Maryland's Master of Library and Information Science program.


First to 15: The Official Podcast of USA Fencing

Host: Bryan Wendell

Cover art: Manna Creations

Theme music: Brian Sanyshyn

Episode Transcription



[00:00:01] BW: Hello, and welcome to First to 15, the official podcast of USA Fencing. I'm your host, Bryan Wendell, and in this show you're going to hear from some of the most inspiring, interesting, and insanely talented people in the sport we all love. First to 15 is for anyone in the fencing community and even for those just checking out fencing to see what it's all about. So whether you're an Olympian or a Paralympian, a newcomer, a seasoned veteran, a fencing parent, a fan, or anyone else in this wonderful community, this podcast is for you. With that, let's get to today's episode. Enjoy. 


[00:00:40] BW: Today, we're going behind the scenes in the bout committee with a very special guest, Maggie Dull. Maggie is an integral part of our fencing community, serving as one of the chairs at the bout committee at USA Fencing National tournaments, like this one we're recording live here in Phoenix at Summer Nationals. Maggie's contributions to the sport stretched far beyond the bout committee alone. 

Starting her fencing journey as a walk-on for Vassar College's varsity team in her senior year, Maggie quickly found her niche in the organizational side of the sport. She served in roles from Oregon Division Secretary to managing local and regional tournaments for the Maryland Division and several clubs. Since 2013, she's been a key figure in the National Bout Committee, stepping up as chair in 2014. 

That is not all. Maggie currently holds positions on USA Fencing's Tournament Committee, serves as the chair of the Black Card review group, and reads for the annual Absolute Fencing Gear All-American team scholarship essays. She also leads the Western New York division as their division chair. 

Outside of fencing, Maggie brings her organizational prowess to the academy world, currently serving as the Director of Metadata Strategies and Interim Director of Digital Initiatives at the University of Rochester's River Campus Libraries. Pretty soon, she'll step into a new role as Interim Assistant Dean of Scholarly Curation and Resources. In addition to all this, she had also lectures for the University of Maryland's Master of Library and Information Science Program. 

So whether you're tuning in strip side or on your commute, let's get into a deep dive into the world of fencing organization. So without further ado, welcome, Maggie, to First to 15. 

[00:02:12] MD: Thank you so much. 

[00:02:13] BW: So that big intro is kind of a testament to all the different roles that you play in fencing. One thing we didn't say, a lot of people might know your voice from fencing tournaments, right? 

[00:02:24] MD: That is true. In fact, there have been tournaments, especially down at Mission, there are a couple of parents who just come up like, “Oh, you're the voice.” 

[00:02:31] BW: The voice. 

[00:02:31] MD: Which is not a bad moniker to go by, I guess. 

[00:02:34] BW: You were saying that some people call it your NPR voice. 

[00:02:37] MD: Yes. At work, we'll often have presentations, or we have a general staff meeting. You have to give up and give updates. It's like something about when I see a mic, it's like, “Hello.” Suddenly, the voice drops, and it's fresh air. It’s sort of unconscious at this point. 

[00:02:49] BW: Can you give us a little of your NPR voice, like calling someone to strip E2 or something?

[00:02:54] MD: Bryan Wendell, Bryan Wendell, please report to E2, echo two, immediately. This is your final call. 

[00:03:01] BW: I love that. I love that. It sounds great in the venue. I got to say. So let's get into what the bout committee does. I mean, people see you all on this stage in the middle of the venue. What is all happening up there?

[00:03:12] MD: So I like to think of the bout committee both sort of the stage and sort of bout committee is like a separate department, if you will. It's the hub of the tournament. It's sort of the nexus. It brings together all of the different parts that you need to make the tournament happen. So from a – if you think about those individual people who are each sitting at computers when you walk up to the bout committee stage, those are the bout committee staff, and they're each typically assigned to one or sometimes with vet events, several different events. They are running that event from start to finish from making sure people are checked in, that the pools are set up. We do the turn, the Des, things like that. 

Some of it, I like to describe it to non-fencing folks as it's somewhere in between like scorekeeping in like air traffic control. So they're working with the referee assigner, with the individual referees, with the bout committee chair to make sure that event flows, that they have all of the different inputs they need. Who's referring? What strips are we on? Where are we going? When are we collapsing? When are we going to replay, et cetera? 

Their whole point is to have that tournament happen, that individual event, I should say, within the tournament as efficiently as possible. Efficient doesn't have to be like we're just going to go fast, fast, fast to get it out. It's still about the tournament experience for the athlete. So it's making sure that it's a consistent, equitable, as best as we can enjoyable experience for the athletes out on the floor. 

[00:04:33] BW: It's no small task because I think here in Phoenix, there's, what, 89 strips. 

[00:04:38] MD: Eighty-nine strips, yes. I think the biggest I've ever done I think was the Philly Summer Nationals we had ‘99. 

[00:04:44] BW: Here, at least, there's something like 11,000-plus registered –

[00:04:46] MD: Yes, individual entries. Yes. 

[00:04:48] BW: Entries, yes. So where do you even start with that? Because it seems like this astronomical number and finding a place for each of them each day, I'm like, “No, let's –”

[00:04:58] MD: Yes. Well, we do have a planning spreadsheet, the Mason spreadsheet, that breaks everything down by each day, by event. It’s spreadsheets you can change some of the variables. So in the moment, if we have drops or ads or you want to see what happens because there's a lot of in-bout committee about managing resources. Something's running a little slow. We want to bolster it. Something's running fast. Can we give it a little more? Do we need to slow it down? So you can use that to help you make that decision. So it's a little data-driven in that respect. 

But it is literally day-by-day. If I was going to look at all 10 days of Summer Nationals and try to do my strip plan, I would probably be curled up in a ball crying. So it's usually you start like the night before. You get your updated info, and you just kind of break it down. When you do it enough, there's sort of a natural flow to a tournament and the way that the group that sets up the day schedules. There is a logic to it. You can see like this morning, we are starting off with like 58 strips or something of junior men's epee and then towards the afternoon. Then we have all these other smaller events. So it's like these bigger events. Finish smaller events come in. So there is a logic to that. 

But is literally you just have to kind of sit down. It's a logic puzzle. The spreadsheet, I have some numbers. I have a venue map, and you just step by step. What's coming in first? What's going to hit replay when? When are we collapsing? A lot of that is – to be honest, it's just sort of time on task. I've been really lucky to have been mentored by some really great people. Mary Frye, I want to just say first off, is the reason I'm here. I worked with her at a tournament in Baltimore, and she was like, “Oh, I think this one knows what she's doing.” Emailed Mary Griffith, former head of the TC, who mentored me up; Brandon Rochelle; Laura Johnson; folks like that. 

Just you learn from each other. How are we going to approach this? How are we going to do it? Again, the more you do it, kind of the better you get at it. It doesn't necessarily make it easier. Some days, like it still feels really complicated. But, yes, also, it's that collaboration as well. This morning, like I could sit with Linda, and she's like, “Could you help me see something?” Or I'll go to Laura and be like, “What do you think I should do?” Or go to the assigners. Like in Raleigh, Mary Frye and I worked very closely at the SJCC to think about how we were going to make things flow because that venue was a little wonkily shaped. 

[00:07:06] BW: Yes. So a lot of the work too happens even before you show up on the site, right? Because you're ideally making your life easier down the road by creating a day schedule that that fits into the overall tournament structure, right? 

[00:07:19] MD: Yes. 

[00:07:20] BW: Can you talk about how that day schedule is created as well? Because I think judging from some of the comments I see online, people say, “Well, you've announced the tournament. Why don't we know the exact start times right away?” 

[00:07:32] MD: So I've only been recently brought into those conversations. So it is a group of folks who representing, again, a lot of different parts of the tournament because you need referee feedback. You need the bout committee feedback. We're looking at historical data, how traditionally have these combos looked. What numbers do we get? What side of the country we're on can also impact who shows up, what state we're in. 

Then we have to kind of fit all those pieces together in these like rough blocks based on who has actually then registered. So we you always want to try to get to as close as reality before you start making those decisions because you don't want to get potentially too locked in, and then things kind of blow up from there. It is done with a lot of thought and care because we know folks don't want to be in a venue for 15 hours. We don't want to be there that long. We are trying to – again, it's that big picture perspective of there's all these different events. So how do we try to make the best possible tournament experience holistically? 

[00:08:27] BW: Yes. It seems like it's working, whatever you all are doing because this precedes me, but I hear stories of tournaments going on or days going on until midnight or later. 

[00:08:38] MD: Yes, the horror stories that they'd have to call the board of directors to let them run something until 2am. I will say, when I first started, one of the first Summer Nationals I did, we were doing youth events until like 11 o'clock at night, and we have – there's been a lot of work. Credit to the folks who are doing the schedule; Brandon, Rochelle, Dan Burke, the folks in the RC and in the national office to try to get us away from that because nobody wants to be there like that. But it does take a lot of work and planning and improving some of our practices and things like that. 

[00:09:08] BW: A lot of people, their interaction – a lot of fencers, their interaction with the bout committee is bringing their slips up after they've won. So do you ever like pause and say, “This is pretty cool that this person is having this great moment, and they're bringing me the proof that they –”

[00:09:21] MD: I have been shown multiple pictures of where I'm the one taking someone's slip, and it's like, “That was their first win at a national tournament,” as they’re heading that slip up. It's great to be part of that. Like I love when people come up, and they're like, “This is my first national tournament, and we're scared.” I'm like, “I will walk you through your whole day.” Like, “Let’s have this. Let's figure this out.”

I just realized, when you told me about the podcast and thinking about my time in fencing, I've been doing this, it'll be 20 years somehow in September. The folks – like I remember this [inaudible 00:09:50]. I remember you, and you're in Y12 and bringing up your slip. So now, you're like Junior World Championships. So also being able to kind of just see people progress like from that perspective is really cool. 

[00:10:02] BW: So stepping back a little bit, we talked into intro about how you got your start into fencing. Were you aware/interested in the organizational side at that point? 

[00:10:10] MD: No. I walked onto an NCAA team. I didn't even know the hand signals like when I was like fencing. Really, I got involved in the organizational side because I came in as an adult fencer. I was 21 when I started and then was immediately working full-time. I was in grad school twice, and I was trying to think about how I could stay involved if I couldn't go to practice, if I couldn't compete myself. 

Because I got involved in the Oregon Division, and we were running RYC circuit back then, so this is like 2008, 2009, it was like, “We'll show you how to do this.” Because of where we were, Dan Burke, who created fencing time is – he's out in the Western Washington region. In Oregon, we had a series with them. I've never not run a tournament on fencing time. I know tournaments from fencing time, and that was sit over here and put in a pool sheet. Now, we're going to do registration. 

So it was just sort of from helping out because this was a weekend or two I could take out to do it. It just went from there, and it just turned out to be something that I happen to enjoy and could kind of keep making time for. I haven't actually fenced in probably six, seven years at this point, but I've definitely kept up the organizational side of things. 

[00:11:16] BW: What is the community like for you, and how welcoming are you to your new colleagues as new people come onto the bout committee? 

[00:11:26] MD: I mean, I like to think we're very welcoming. I mean, we love – it's fun to be up there. It's fun to do that work. It's hard work. At this point, with sort of the national cadre, especially with the volume of regional events we have, like we can't really take on people who have never done any bout committee work before. So usually, it’s people who have done something locally or regionally, kind of built up some experience and some competencies there. 

I feel like it's a lot of mentoring. Like this is how we do it here. How have you done it before? I feel like I do a lot of showing tips and tricks in fencing time like, “Did you know you can do X, Y, and Z to assign the referees this way? Here are some cool stuff.” Helping them understand like this is a question for us. This is a question for the referee. Sports medicine's over here, like where all the different units are, and just really trying to bring people in and understanding like it's not just bout committee that's running this tournament. It's like this massive group, this hub, this collaboration that is making this happen. 

[00:12:22] BW: It seems like the rules have almost shifted in a sense. You talked about some of your role models when you were first getting into this. Now, you're helping teach other people, show them the ropes. What is the process, maybe we can dive a little bit more into that, for someone who is listening to this and saying they're interested in being up on that stage someday?

[00:12:41] MD: I would say like go to regional events and talk to the people who are doing the work. They're going to be the ones who are going to hire. Talk to your local club. Running small events in a local club with like seven or eight people, it's a great way to start. It's a great way to start understanding how the software works, how it flows with the different roles are, how the formats work. You can do pools to pools to pools or pools to DEs or whatever, and build up from there. 

Again, like I said earlier with like the whole, the massive strip planning, a lot of this is just like I think with fencing. It's practice. Practice makes permanent. The more you can engage in that, the better you'll get at it. So people at the bout committee like to talk to people. If we didn't have any customers service skills or won’t interact, we wouldn't be up there. So just walk up and be like, “Hey, can you –” Not when there's a rush of people. Like wait till it's a little quiet. But you're like, “Hey, I'm so-and-so. I'm from this area. Can I talk to you a bit about what you're doing here? Like are you guys looking for people to help, volunteer, or train, or go from there?” 

[00:12:41] BW: So you wear a lot of hat, as we said in the intro, and some inside fencing, some not. How do you manage your time?

[00:13:48] MD: Right now, it's feeling a little overwhelming. I will – it sort of works out almost like three jobs. So it's the day job, there's fencing, and then there's my teaching as well. Some of that, just they're sort of like a natural balance in the fencing season. This will be my last tournament for a little bit of time, which I'm looking forward to a bit of a break. It’s also a bit of a downtime in the academic cycle. So that's great 

It's just being thoughtful about your schedule. I'm now at the point where I'm starting to get scheduled like a year out. So it's just trying to be very intentional about how I want to spend my time and energy, which easier said than done I will admit to. But I guess, for me, it's just thinking about, especially the older I get, like what do I value, and where do I want to be putting my time and energy. 

For me, like in the profession, with my professional development in libraries, right now it's with teaching. It's for teaching at University of Maryland and also in another continuing program called Fundamentals of Metadata with the American Library Association. With bout committee, I love working with new folks, working with trainees, bringing up people, to be able to be a new bout committee chair, working on the Absolute essays, like watching how kids are growing and progressing. That’s the stuff I'm trying to focus on now and trying to do better at saying no to things that that's not where I want to spend my time and energy. 

[00:15:08] BW: So you talked about getting booked a year out, and that's not just national tournaments, right? Can you go into that a little bit?

[00:15:14] MD: So I also – in additional to like regional events, I do national events. I've been doing some NCAA events. But I've also been working some international events as well. I was able to – the roles are a little bit different in internationals I was doing. It was called Secretariat, but I got to do that at the Cadet Junior World Championships in Dubai a couple years back. I do a lot of tournaments in Canada. I live in Rochester, New York so –

[00:15:39] BW: That’s convenient. 

[00:15:39] MD: That's very. I'm far closer to Toronto than I am Manhattan. My partner, David Blake, who runs – most people know him from down at like the satellite bout committee in the replay area, who does a lot of international work there. Like we got to the World Cup in Vancouver in December, and that's doing a far different role there, like doing video replay. 

That's just been interesting as well, just to see American tournaments are very idiosyncratic. There are a lot of similarities, of course. But when you go to a World Cup, that's two events a day max. I have done – I think it was – we did a two-day vet NAC. We had 18 events in one day. The scale is a little bit different. 

[00:16:21] BW: Right. Sure. Well, here at Summer Nationals, we've got a day with, I think, maybe 17 or 18, right? Not that I have to tell. 

[00:16:27] MD: Right, right, right. When you get all the different vet events in there. So it's just interesting to kind of see that perspective, and we've tried to incorporate like posting the pools the night before and things like that, some of those elements as well. So I think it's just thinking about like what scales and what makes sense. That's also just kind of cool just to be able to go random. I've been able to go to Havana because of fencing and things like that. Just be able to kind of get out there. 

It’s still that community. It's still like, “Oh.” Like going there and seeing people who ref at NACs. Also, the international events is – that community kind of following you wherever you go is really cool. 

[00:17:01] BW: How do you get on the radar of an international tournament organizer?

[00:17:05] MD: That is a great question. Other than having a partner who's David Blake, I'm not quite sure I can answer that outside of refereeing. Yes.

[00:17:11] BW: Yes, yes. So they hear that you do good work and then –

[00:17:15] MD: Yes. Some of that was also working with Dan Burke who does – because fencing time does a lot of international events as well. 

[00:17:21] BW: So you mentioned the Absolute Fencing Gear Essays. That's the All-American team. What has reading those essays told you about the future of fencing and youth in this sport?

[00:17:33] MD: I mean, I guess in short, the kids are all right. I love – so I've probably been doing this for maybe about 10 years now as a reader and now working a little more closely with the office like on the prompts and things like that. I know the prompt for this year was really cool about asking the fencers to write about DIB and their relationship with it and what they would do to improve the sport. 

The ideas, the energy, I mean, a lot of them are very well-written. But just how that community of fencers is thinking about the community of fencers through that prompt, the inclusion, and like broadly speaking, people talking about race and gender but economics, neurodivergent folks, para. Like how do we really make a community that is truly inclusive and truly reflective of the world? That’s a – it’s energizing. It's fun to read and, again, to like see all these ideas coming out. Just it makes you feel kind of hopeful. 

I was talking with David about it and realizing, God, I've been doing this for 20 years. Like am I The Old Guard? So knowing that there are such great folks coming up behind who are going to be taking leadership positions in this sport, pushing the sport to be better is really cool. 

[00:18:47] BW: So in your professional work, you work a lot with the technology side and understanding how technology is helping improve our lives and our access to information. How is technology changing and evolving in fencing and in your work on the bout committee?

[00:19:03] MD: I mean, let's say the biggest fencing time has really driven a lot of that change. Credit to Dan Burke and Brandon Rochelle for kind of shepherding us through. We used to be far more paper-heavy. Now, we're printing far less. We're scribbling far less, which I think makes things a lot more efficient. It’s been interesting to see even within the past two quads. We're doing – our use of video replay streaming. That folks can know the night before where you're going to be. Then you can come in. You can check your phone and know where your Des are. 

Then if you make it up to a certain round, you can send a link to someone, and they can watch you as you're fencing your like semi-final bout. That was like not anything when I was starting. That we were like – doing things on computer was – it felt kind of awesome. Also like NCAA, that's also paper-heavy but –

[00:19:50] BW: So before all that, for people like me who haven't been around the sport as long, were things printed off and posted? That’s how you –

[00:19:56] MD: One of my first – when I was a trainee in Baltimore, that first tournament was a lot of – we'd print the seating after the DEs, and this is long. You have to tape them all together, and you have to – part of the order that the person in the [inaudible 00:20:08] would be you'd have to have like bulletin boards. We're literally posting things, and you’re elbowing small children out of the way to be like, “I need to post this, so everyone can read it.” But now, that information is there, and people can follow it. I think it's really made it a lot more accessible as well if you think about it. 

[00:20:24] BW: Totally. That's really cool. You also work at the division level, the Western New York Division. I want to talk a little bit about how divisions play a role here and in supporting the sport at that really hyperlocal level.

[00:20:39] MD: I mean, it's where I think most folks start. Like I was a bit – I don't know how many people still – I think there's a number of people who start at the college level. But if you think of folks when you're starting as a kid, you're starting in the division level. You're starting with those local clubs, with those local programs. You're starting in your community and thinking about the division as that's sort of your first contact with USA Fencing like as an org. 

So I've known fencers that maybe your first sanctioned tournaments or one of your first big tournaments is the divisional qualifier for either JOs or Summer Nationals. As a division chair or a secretary over the years, being someone who kind of helps also translate the rules, the procedures, the process of how tournaments or qualification or membership, however works to folks. Being that kind of intermediary and not in a pejorative way but in a way, again, like to kind of assist of helping folks be able to navigate what can sometimes I think feel like an arcane process. 

There's a lot in the athlete handbook, but it can be – or like if I tell you check chapter two, that can be a little overwhelming. So helping people navigate that. Or same thing like it's your first tournament. You're at a local or divisional tournament, helping to kind of set expectations, how things should flow, what you can expect as a fencer, what you can expect from me, what I expect from you in this space as well. 

Then also thinking about – and I think we did a lot more in the organ division, thinking about sort of my current role in Western New York. We're a little bit smaller. But like what can the division do as well to kind of support the clubs themselves as entities? Is that with referee development? Is that where we hosting events, sanctioning events? Sanctioning comes through the division as well. 

[00:22:27] BW: Then finally, let's talk about where you hope to see the future of USA Fencing. We talked about how we've gotten here, and you've played a big role in that. Where do you hope to see this organization and this sport in maybe 5 or 10 years?

[00:22:42] MD: I think we're trending in a good direction. I really appreciate – I feel the – in terms of kind of communication and learning more about the like how we actually operate, I feel that's been a lot more transparent. We're able to understand a bit more. I'm also sort of saying this through the lens of I did have the opportunity to go through the leadership academy, which kind of walked – I wish we could somehow bring more of what you would kind of learn in that out to everyone. Really learning how the sport is organized. Like what are the different departments at a tournament? What's the relationship between the division and USA Fencing as a whole, things like that? 

We're on the tournament committee with the events review report. We're looking at real seriously to think again how we can make some improvements there in our tournament structure to support some of the ideas that came out of that. Support ultimately the fencers and the fencer experience as well. I know it'll take some time, but I think we have the folks to do it. There's the interest. Ultimately, like we want to create the best possible experience for fencers. We want to see fencing grow. 

So how can we do that in a way that is sustainable, and how can we do that in a way that helps like everyone achieve their goals in fencing? Because like a fencer is not just a singular entity. There's different levels. Every fencer has their own goals. You have the rec fencer. You have the Olympian and everything in between. So how do we account for all of that, getting back to that notion of the inclusion and the diversity in the community as well? 

[00:24:10] BW: I think that's well said, and that's a good space to leave it. Well, thank you, Maggie, so much and one of the voices of the USA Fencing National Tournaments. So good luck the rest of the way at Summer Nationals, and thank you for joining us. 

[00:24:21] MD: Thank you very much for having me. 


[00:24:24] BW: Thanks for listening to First to 15, the official podcast of USA Fencing. We'll be back with our next conversation in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, you can stay up to date on all the latest fencing news by following us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. If you liked this podcast, please help us grow and reach more people by leaving us a rating or a review. Until next time, I'm Bryan Wendell, and I hope to see you real soon out on the strip. Bye.