Beyond the Confetti Cannons and a Sold Out Arena

debaseinstallWinter Guard

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It’s that time of year again. It’s proposal time. Now I’ll be the first to admit that in my 20 plus years in the activity I’ve only submitted one proposal. Proposals I submit, if I have anything to say, occur at the local level where I feel I can make the most difference. Most of the time I do what most of us do. I sit back and watch to see what happens. I’m not afraid to put in proposals, I just can’t be there to defend my ideas and I don’t want anyone speaking for me. I think there’s a lot of people out there like that. I also don’t get a vote. I’m allowed to speak my peace…any of us can speak our peace…but not all of us can vote. Actually, most of us can’t vote. This year however, I do have something to say and the really great thing about this new age of technology we are in, is that any of us can take to social media to voice our concerns. We can write blogs and create petitions. News travels at the speed of light and secrets don’t really exist anymore, when those at the meeting can text those of us not at the meeting. This past weekend, I got to listen to and participate in a pretty heated discussion about the WGI proposals that specifically impacted the A Class. Many different voices were heard and many of us had little fear in expressing our voice. At the end of the day however, I don’t get a vote as to how MY A Class guard is treated at the national level and most of the people in the room don’t either. Our trust is in those representing us, who often have conflict of interests. I don’t get a vote in how WGI spends MY guards money and I don’t get a vote on where MY guard performs. I don’t get a vote on what age the A Class should be capped. Whether it’s the age of 20, 25, or 45…I still don’t get a vote and to be honest…no one ever asks me or my colleagues before many decisions are made. So with this, I would like to spend this post voicing MY opinion on the proposals and as they make me say at work on my Twitter account…

“The opinions expressed in this article are mine and solely mine and don’t represent any organization I work for.”

Every year it seems that the proposals at the WGI level take on the same tone. They are worded differently, but always seem to have similar ideas. How will we seed prelims and semi-finals? Are we going to change the age out rules? How many do we take in finals? Who should or should not get promoted and how will that happen? Who should be allowed to judge a power regional? Can the World Class drop flying turkeys from the ceiling on their abstract idea of great sitcoms of all time, to an obscure piano concerto written by Prince?

It’s seriously a circle without end and each year most of us sit back and wait until the middle of summer when the board meets to find out how our individual color guards are impacted. When writing this article I found that I wish I could go and reference past proposals and tally up how many different ways we have seeded nationals and changed who makes finals and why. I wanted to find out how many different times we have discussed the age out rules. Mostly though…I wanted to find out how many proposals comprised the A class; voted on by the World Class. I don’t have that information though and my guess is that no one has that either which is a shame, because I bet history would tell a very interesting story. So, I offer a recommendation.

Stop making decisions that impact the A Class, without first testing the waters through “well written” surveys, feasibility studies, financial impact studies, or a well planned A Class caucus. Wait a year or two while you study and pilot new ideas. Create greater transparency when making large sweeping changes that impact most of the activity. Right now WGI has a perception problem. The perception is that many…MANY…A and Open units feel disenfranchised. Many feel that in recent years the World class is hijacking the activity for reasons that vary depending on the person you speak to. This year for example, many guards felt screwed by being at Millet Hall, as well as having finals at the Nutter Center…back to back to Open Finals. I have yet to find anyone who thought that was a good idea that isn’t on the World Class Board, but I speak only for myself. I’m sure those people are out there somewhere. Many people are questioning whether or not there was a financial gain or loss to the system this year. 
What’s interesting is that when you look at World Finals, everything seems so happy and good. The confetti cannons are fun. A sold out arena, with undeniably amazing guards. Is it, though? Is everything good or is it getting a little harder to survive both competitively and financially each year? When you look beyond Saturday night, what do you find? Do you find well trained judges and guards at both the local and national levels? Do you see an increase of safety concerns as we increase skill base at the lower levels? Do you see a stressed out A system with too many units travelling on small roads to Millet Hall or to Cincinnati? Do you see an increase of young people instructing in a world where risk has increased? Do you see an arena where police officers are screaming at young people, because the arena no longer fits? Do you see a trust in the system or have we turned a blind eye to those that built the activity from the ground up? 
When WGI took away the age out back in the late 90’s (ish), many people felt we would lose the youth aspect of the activity and we did to an extent. I don’t think any of us could have seen though, how it would filter into the A class in terms of the yearly incremental increase in skills expected and demanded as the A Class started to populate itself by highly designed and expensive shows taking its lead from the now ageless World Class. I don’t think anyone could see how the demand in skills would then filter down to the local level Regional A units. When the rule was changed to allow for 40 individuals allowed on the performing floor in the World Class; many people saw that by giving the World Class and extra 10 people, then good kids would get sucked away from the Open and A units, where many of those kids might have gone; thus impacting the Independent A bottom line as well as their skill base. Additionally, I’m not sure anyone has truly asked the A and Open units if there was an impact? We then took away one thing that all of us certainly love. We took away the arena. Now some people say that this was done to accommodate the A Class units ability to serve more guards in finals…maybe. I’m not sure that’s it though, especially when you look at how World Class guards get a semi-finals show, without a significant number of units to truly warrant a semi-finals event and if we were to be honest; Why 15 in finals in World Class? The numbers don’t truly warrant that either. However, the answer for that will be that everyone wants to see World and no one wants to see A or Open. (I wonder about that as well) People would say that it’s World Class that draws the guards in. Is it? I’ve also heard that the World Class guards can now only fit in the arena since they write for the arena only…and by the way…they aren’t the only ones who write for the arena. To be honest…I don’t know the truth and no one seems to know either, as the answer is different depending on who you ask on the Board. I will tell you though, the perception of it all looks bad out here in the real world. 
So I’m forced to come to a conclusion. It seems that we have a history of increasing the benefits for the World Class, while eliminating the benefits for the lower classes…to accommodate the World Class. If I’m wrong then I’m wrong, but perception is a bitch isn’t it? I also must conclude that the activity at both the local and national level is growing too fast for the system we have. The arena, city, and system is no longer working for the amount of units we have nationwide. We can’t even come to a conclusion as to what A and Open Class should really look like. Hell…we don’t even discuss it openly. We probably have too many guards coming to Dayton. We might need to look at capping it or placing a score that you must reach before you are truly eligible. We may need to look at another city. We may need to look at putting World Class back on Sunday. We may need to look at moving A Class to a completely different weekend. We may need to look at starting on Wednesday. We may need to look at a complete restructure of the Board of Directors. (now that’s scary isn’t it?) I hear a lot of people complaining, but the real problem is not this faux issue of how we seed semi-finals or whether or not the A Class should perform on Friday night. If we want change, then we have to look at change over the course of time and not from season to season and be willing to change. You can’t make a change with a multi-million dollar organization like WGI, without taking into account the entire make up of the activity. The issue we truly have, is an activity we’ve grown out of and an activity that has grown up. It is not just international, but being touted as a reach into China. China? We can’t even fix our home yet. Do we have the capacity to expand at the rate we are expanding at? If I could write a proposal and be in Vegas this weekend to defend it; it would go something like this.
Let’s cap all proposals and expansions for two years, while we hire an outside and independent consulting firm to take the pulse of the activity through a well designed and totally transparent study of the bylaws and make up of the Board of Directors and all affiliations. The financials of the activity will be scrutinized for waste and Board approval of capitol expenses, staff raises, and raises in membership dues. It will look at the education process for new board members, judges, and instructors. This study will take a hard look at the make up of the Independent Classes in terms of who is designing, teaching, and performing. It will analyze data and survey/interview staff. The study will look at local guard budgets and talk to circuit boards to find out about what works and what doesn’t work. Judges would be interviewed without fear of reprisal. Scholastic unit directors and instructors would be interviewed; along with their parents to gauge the impact of the financial and rehearsal burden on the family unit. There would be a strong look at the diversity make up of leadership. The independent research firm would then submit recommendations for changes going forward.
Financial Impact: A lot, but a hell of a lot cheaper than this constant revolving door of changes in how, who, and where we compete; along with a stronger base of trust throughout the nation.

This however, will never happen. I’m living in a dream world, because we all know that if my proposal were to pass, then we would all have to sit back and wait to see what came back. I work for the government and I see it all the time. “Let’s spend a million dollars, because this looks cool without testing the waters of the public first!” People want “it” and they want “it” now, regardless of long term impact. However, there are some really great nonprofit’s out there that do what I’m proposing about every decade or so. They look at where they were, where they are, and where they are headed. They put the breaks on, before moving forward. It’s simply smart business.
In the end, many of us might not like what is found and the changes recommended, because change is hard. Everybody would lose something and in the end we might find that A Class is best suited for the Nutter Center or we should completely remove A class from Dayton all together, but at least we would know. We might find the bylaws and Board make up no longer fits this international activity of ours. I ask this all the time as I live in a data based world…Wouldn’t you like to know what is really happening out there by the numbers? Wouldn’t it make you feel good? It’s comforting to see real studies independently done. There’s a peace to it. However, that peace comes from mature thinking and the understanding that all stakeholders would have to make some hard choices and then live with it. 
I’m willing to give it a shot and try, but I know as I write this I’m in the minority. We should never fear change, especially when we as an activity are growing so well. In the end, we should all want what’s best for this wonderful activity of ours and right now what is best is taking a breath to assess before we respond.