Photo Credit: Sarah Woolsey’s Facebook.
Editor’s Note: Earlier in the day, I published a brief comment on USQ’s decision to select Sarah Woolsey over Curtis Taylor, the other final in-person interviewee, for the new executive director. What follows is a roundtable discussion I moderated that took place last night between Mitch Hatfield, Ryan Sparks, Alex Scheer, and Eric Andres.
7-15-16: Screencaps previously contained within this article of the interactions between USQ and Kansas Quidditch on Twitter have since been removed at the request of one of the roundtable participants.
Mitch Hatfield: Well that executive director announcement was entirely expected. Title suggestion for this piece: “Swoolsey is finally given the job she’s already been doing for two years.”
Ryan Sparks: NCBA anyone?
Alex Scheer: National Confederation of Broomstick Athletes. NCBA challenged USQ, and USQ won because it was bigger and already more established. That route has been tried.
RS: Yeah. The year before I started, NCBA was whispered to be an attempted thing—just to give people another alternative to the IQA.
AS: They were US-centric; they did nothing with the international scene. It had a lot of promise, but it was mostly Southwest teams. Marquette and Kansas participated, and the champions got championship rings. They were pretty self-sustaining and looked badass. But the then-IQA/now-USQ changed a few policies and forced NCBA’s hand.
MH: Sad; it’d be good if there was a second option.
Eric Andres: I’m a little tired of the NCBA continuing to be brought up as an example of a valiant effort to reform the league and sport. It was more of an “I’m taking my ball and going home!” situation. Once NCBA started to run things, the people in charge quickly realized, “Oh shit, this is hard and takes experience.” Back then, Swools was maintaining that ship and has only gotten better at it.
AS: Unfortunately, the issue is that if you split the leagues, both of them suffer, and there is significantly lower quality. Neither league would be at the point where it would be fully financially stable without full participation of membership, and it would absolutely hurt both organizations before it helped.
And, when a league decides to add on, it makes it so much more difficult for the smaller league to adapt and grow. You’re literally giving USQ the chance to clean that they’re making a few changes, without actually making them just long enough to kill off the other organization.
RS: Scheer is right; in the short term it would be disastrous, frankly. But in the long term, it would force one league to meet demands in order to best the competition, thus leading to a better quality overall. I don’t actually think dividing USQ or creating two national leagues is a good idea. USQ just needs to clean up its act.
MH: It’s just hard because I think, as Alex said, the short term harm outweighs the long term gain at this point.
RS: I mean, at the current rate of decline, USQ will be dead before quidditch hits its 15th birthday.
Sarah Goad: Okay, so—refocusing a bit. What do y’all think about Sarah Woolsey’s appointment as the official next executive director of US Quidditch?
AS: Here’s my take. I love Sarah Woolsey as a person. I love Sarah as an events director. She’s fabulous at both. The problem here is that I think she needs a good staff around her, and she doesn’t have that. Mary Kimball struggles with social media and when to not “get involved” any further than necessary as we’ve very clearly seen. Her interactions with Kansas Quidditch post-nationals via the USQ Twitter account is just one example of trying to be everyone’s friend and make it seem like everything is fine when it’s not. I think many people cringed at that exchange, and I don’t fault Mary for trying to play and have fun. That was just unfortunately not the right time. I get that she was hired to do a job, but many people ask, “What is her job?” If you ask many people in the league, they know what Eric Schnier does, they know what Sarah does, but they can’t tell you what Mary does. I have a problem with that, but not because it’s Mary. She is quite intelligent, and she is great at one-on-one conversations. She is good at talking to people. I have a lot of respect for her. I think a lot of people don’t realize being in upper-level management comes with hate. It’s part of any upper-level management position. I have no problem with Mary. She’s a wonderful woman, but I think many people don’t actually know what Mary’s job description is. She kind of just appeared, and that rubs people the wrong way.
EA: This came so out of left field for me, and I’m someone who was used to being steeped in upper-level quidditch gossip. Sure, I saw them cavorting around Seattle and thought, “Eh, another board meeting.” What is unsurprising to me, however, is that Sarah was the choice.
RS: I mean, I’m in agreement with Scheer, frankly. Sarah Woolsey is very good at her job, and I have immense amounts of respect for her. She just needs a better staff, and that can’t happen with USQ constantly getting rid of more and more volunteer positions.
USQ: “We’re expanding at a rapid rate; what should we do to ensure our continued success?”
Also USQ: “I’ve got it! Cut all our volunteer positions!”
SG: So, for anyone reading this who is not in the loop—I’m going to clarify here that you’re probably referring, Sparks, to USQ getting rid of its Regional Coordinators/State Reps and such, yeah?
SG: I was directly affected by this when they slashed the editorial department entirely. Not fun.
EA: Volunteer positions get to be liabilities once you’ve evolved into a bigger organization. To be responsible for all that money and membership means you can’t trust a 20-year-old college sophomore when you can be paying someone older and more experienced.
Quidditch was built on the backs of volunteers, but USQ can’t run the organization the way it needs to be today. The volunteers are still important—like overly so—but the structure had to change in order to ensure security and longevity.
Mostly I’m worried about 2016 Sarah being very different than 2013 Sarah. Modern Sarah is burnt out on years of the inability to delegate and has grown far from the position of a common player. It’s going to be important to make sure she’s still engaged at the league level and that staff doesn’t bow to her usual demands of “Let me just do it myself.” I’ve been learning for years that if you don’t delegate efficiently, everything falls apart. Trusting and teaching are paramount.
AS: She’s exhausted. Extremely exhausted. Losing Donte after 3 months, getting thrust into the top spot, and maintaining events? She has to bring on solid staff who can take tasks and run with them. She has to lead and learn to delegate.
MH: I agree with all y’all. Backpedaling a little—capable people can’t do everything perfectly, so it is going to take Sarah looking at her staff analytically, almost clinically, removing the emotion, and making the right calls. Even if it means firing her friends or changing their positions. Otherwise we just have rampant quasi-nepotism with friends keeping friends in power even if there are better people for the job.
EA: That, Mitch, I don’t think I agree with. It’s very easy (especially with the leadership in this league) to point the finger at nepotism. It’s happened more than once. But the real failure here is an inability to look hard enough for a better candidate. I’m positive Sarah is the best one for the job, but, just like their bidding process, USQ doesn’t cast the net wide enough.
RS: Eric, I’m aware that the structure changes as the organization grows. However, my point is that USQ has been slashing large parts of its volunteer base over the past few years, and I think the league has suffered as a result. If it was a slow weaning process, it might look a little differently. But cutting whole departments at a time wasn’t the right answer, in my opinion.
I still think State Reps are hella important for growth. It’d be a little different if they replaced these volunteer positions with paid staff, but the way it is right now, there’s a job that was being done really well by incredibly passionate people that just isn’t being done anymore.
AS: The other side of the coin is that the ED of most nonprofit organizations make significantly more than we offered. And that’s not okay, especially if we are trying to cast our net wider.
I’ve said this before, but USQ has become an old boys’ club in terms of its leadership. And for good reason. We tried to bring on Donte, and he dipped out. At the same time, we can’t just hire people because they’re our friends or have been around the league for a long time.
MH: I think we agree that USQ leadership being an old boys’ club is bad, but that it was something that happened basically out of necessity? The people that were hired on in the beginning or along the way were flakes, so instead the league hired people it knew. As a newer member of the community, it’s just interesting to see how hard it is to get involved on any level. I see all the same names named over and over but never see those positions posted or advertised for.
And I get it, I’m new to the league. But like, I still wanna help out, so just being new shouldn’t preclude me from helping in some capacity, I’d think.
EA: I don’t disagree with what you’ve all said! There’s so many different factors at play here that it sucks they couldn’t find someone better than Sarah. I think she’ll do a great job if the problems we’ve outlined are addressed, but that’s if. Quidditch has always been an old boys’ club, and it’s frankly astonishing that it’s been able to evolve into an old boys’ and girls’ club at this point. The board and staff are all very familiar with each other, and for many members of the board, their only line to quidditch is through their respective staff members. Because there’s so much disconnect between the board and the players (and even the staff and the players) that it gives more weight to the staff’s opinion.
I’m intimately familiar with how USQ was/is run and how a lot of decisions are made, and I’m mostly comforted by the fact that there are at least quite a few competent people working for this league.
As an aside about the State Reps, those would be a great idea if our volunteer base was competent. But you can’t reap the cream of the crop when you’re begging for spots to be filled. A lot of things that went wrong in the past due to incompetent or uncaring volunteers, which led staff to be more protective of their positions. Right now, Regional Coordinators are hanging onto threads; they need more if that important relationship is to continue. The worst thing to do right now is for USQ to cut off even more contact with its membership base.
AS: Exactly, Eric. USQ’s members have a voice, and they need to be heard. The RCs are struggling; we feel like we don’t have any value because we know so little. We work to communicate with our superior and ask for communication in return but receive little. For instance, we had no idea about the season team policy being released until the day it was, and Eric Schnier canceled our meeting the night before, saying, “I’ve got nothing important, so we can just cancel tonight.”
The RCs were not prepared to answer questions, and our teams get frustrated when their representatives don’t have answers because management refuses to give them a chance to prepare for questions.
RS: That’s fair, and to be entirely honest, I wasn’t ubiquitously familiar the State Reps. The only ones I knew were incredibly passionate and competent people who were doing good for their states. But, you’re absolutely right. Regional Coordinators’ roles are being greatly diminished in USQ, and that’s an issue, in and of itself.
Competence among volunteers would be great, but it seems to me that most of those that would be competent volunteers already feel spurned by USQ.
MH: I agree. Like I get that I’m a relative newbie, but I’m passionate and want to see this league succeed. The real problem is I don’t see any real space within USQ that I could actually get brought on as a volunteer and be offered the chance to make an impact. That’s basically why I joined quidditch media—to make connections and learn more things.
Also Alex, the fact that he canceled that meeting the night before and didn’t prepare y’all is ridiculous.
RS: Right now, frankly, it feels like if you want to volunteer for USQ, the only avenue by which to do that is from a gameplay perspective—refereeing, snitching, TDing, etc. Yes, I’m sure there are more avenues by which to get involved on a deeper level, but there’s certainly a stigma surrounding the organization that makes it feel like the only place I can contribute is in a hands-on, gameplay-centric position.
MH: Right. I feel the same.
AS: Legitimately, people need to be more accepting of change. I can’t help but feel somewhat bad for the leadership in this league. Damn straight, I get downright angry at the league and the leadership, but how many of us could do their jobs? I fear that this will turn into bashing anyone and everyone, and that can’t be the case. But. We as players and volunteers as a whole have a responsibility to the league to be understanding. As a referee, I love working with USQ. As an RC? I love the interactions with the teams. It’s hard somedays, but it’s my players that keep me coming back.
Eric, you’ve been a referee for a while, I think it’s safe to say we’ve both seen officiating grow exponentially in the last 2-3 years, making several positive strides in terms of pay and consistency within itself. Quality of officiating has definitely taken a step back, but I don’t blame that on the league.
Personally, and I’m sure there are some who agree with me, I think that Benepe and Alicia did the best they could and got burnt out, though they tried to leave the cupboard full for the next guy. And they did a solid job of that and got out when they saw that there was a little more major change that they could help inspire. They didn’t overstay their welcome, and that’s exactly what a good leader does.
I am hopeful that Sarah can right the ship; that said, this past year, the league was thrown a monkey wrench, and it forced a lot of changes what with Donte not staying, with Katie Stack stepping down, and a bunch of other things that made the 2015-16 season a rough one. I think quidditch has already seen two full growing pain years, and unfortunately, it looks like we are coming up on another. The first one was the World Cup V season, where things really started to turn towards the athlete. We didn’t see that fully happen until WCVI, but it began at WCV. The second growing pain season was WCVII, at the split of the IQA/USQ. Everyone else wanted a more internationally focused governing body, and I think that forced the league to create positions it didn’t have and thrust people into roles they weren’t ready for. I expect that the next one will be next year (2017-18) when the college/community split happens.
RS: I agree. We do need to be understanding and refrain from just crazy bashing of the league. That’s not what we’re trying to do here, and that’s not what people should be doing. Having critical discussions is very important, and it’s more important that they stay civil and don’t turn into just shitting all over USQ.
SG: Scheer and Sparks nailed it. I think it’s important to remember that we shouldn’t vilify USQ. Stay frustrated, but remember to humanize these people. They’re just people like us, and they’re trying; have critical, understanding conversations. We all want the same thing: a better league and a stronger community.
MH: I completely agree, and it’s the players in my region that are inspiring me to want to contribute more. Like, I get it. There are problems. We all get that but rather than bashing on people who didn’t even cause the problems, more people should step up to problem solve.
EA: Dante didn’t necessarily “empty the cupboard,” but the quick turnaround was so devastating to the league’s operations and image. Plus, KStack’s exit left a big hole in the space occupied by her incredible behind-the-scenes talent. However, I think we’re still going in a good trajectory, and Sarah is going to be a great choice to right the ship.
I’m sorry, I love metaphors so much.
AS: I think we really have to wait and see what Sarah can do. She has a good opportunity in front of her, so I’m wishing her the best. If I could offer any advice, it’s this: be more open and upfront with the volunteers, listen to our community a bit more. She doesn’t have to do what we say, but it’d be nice for her to recognize that no one has all the answers, and that’s perfectly okay.
EA: Yeah, there are way more things I’m gonna worry about than the future of our league because Sarah Woolsey heading USQ sounds like the dream.