When it came to athletics, I was never the best at anything. While I could generally anchor myself as a solid mid-pack performer, the elite ranks always eluded me. Still, I enjoyed being involved in any kind of sports, whether it be a backyard game of football, or a more organized basketball youth league.
Being a tall kid, everyone always pushed me towards basketball. I liked it OK, but I generally preferred football. However, the football practice schedule was very demanding, and my parents just weren’t able to commit to it. When the opportunity to play on my church’s recreation league basketball team came up, and the practice and game schedule was workable, I jumped on it… so to speak.
For the weeks prior to the tryouts, I worked to prepare myself. Having a basketball goal in my driveway, I spent several hours each day dribbling, shooting, and rebounding. Of course, having never played organized ball, it was all fairly awkward looking. My dad, who had been a semi-pro ball player after college, did come out and show me a few things. But for the most part, I would need to depend on my height a bit to have much of a chance. If nothing else, I could hold the ball out of reach of most kids.
As the day approached, I got everything ready. I had my Dr. J basketball jersey standing by. The prerequisite “hey, those shorts are cut kinda high” that were in style at the time were set out. The knee-high socks with the giant stripes around the calf were sparkling clean.
The best part was that my feet had grown big enough to almost fit inside my dad’s old Converse Chuck Taylor white high tops… the very ones he’d used in college and his brief semi-successful stint in semi-pro ball later. The night before tryouts, I could hardly sleep.
Showing Your Stuff
The next morning, my dad drove me to the gym where the tryouts were held. I suppose “tryouts” is a bit too harsh of a word. It was more like “showups”… show up and you’ll be put on a team.
Still, they kept up the pretense. We ran a few laps around the gym. Then we took turns passing and shooting and dribbling, and playing quick games against each other. All the while the parents milled about filling out paperwork and paying the fees.
I was having quite a good time. The coaches were showing us things to do, and generally doing coach stuff. A few friends had come also, so it was fun to talk to them. We’d good-naturedly tease each other about mistakes, and of course brag about how high we’d be picked in the “draft”.
At some point, I even noticed a few coaches looking towards me, talking to each other. Greatness noticed, perhaps? 😉
At some point, I heard my dad call to me. He had a way of whistling that was really loud and distinct. He’d let out that whistle, and call my name. I’d heard it all my life, and as soon as I did, I spotted where he was and took off running. I was sure he was going to tell me I had been picked as a team captain, or something equally important.
There’s A Problem
As I drew closer, I could see the look on his face. Something was wrong. As well as I knew his whistle, I knew his looks better. He did not look happy.
Of course, as any kid would, I immediately assumed I’d done something wrong. I began to rack my brain, sorting through the possibilities. Perhaps there had been homework I’d forgotten. Or maybe I’d been wrong about the $10 fee – maybe it was $15? For some reason I began to worry that they’d spotted my slightly too big Chucks, and were considering them a safety hazard.
As I drew closer, I heard my dad talking with a fellow with a clipboard. “Look, I get that the rules say if he turns 13 during the season, he can’t be over 5′ 10″ tall. But he won’t turn 13 until 2 months after the season ends. His height should be irrelevant.”
At the time, I was just shy of five feet eleven inches tall. I stood several inches taller than most of the other kids. The fact that my height was an issue surprised me – I’d always thought being tall in basketball was a good thing.
The man with the clipboard shook his head. “Sir, I understand you’re upset. But the intent of the rule is to prevent boys who tower over the other kids from having an unfair advantage. He’s simply too tall.”
Having None Of That
Dad would have none of it. “The rules don’t prescribe a height limit, except where it is tied to an age limit. Look – your list of birth dates shows he’s one of the younger kids out here. Yes, he’s taller than the rest, but he’s also younger. And again, the rules state he cannot exceed that height ONLY if he’s over 13 years old. He’s still 12… and will be for the full duration of the season.”
I went and sat on the bleachers, feeling sick to my stomach. I wanted to cry, but of course I dared not do so. It was humiliating enough to have to sit off to the side. A few friends wandered over and whispered ‘what’s wrong?” When I told them I was too tall to play, they looked at each other, and back at me, and with a look of disgust just shook their heads and talked about how unfair it was. And I agreed.
I watched as dad continued to argue on my behalf. Another man had come over, this one with a clipboard AND a tie… that’s never good. No matter how much my dad gestured at their rulebook, their heads shook “no”.
Back To RDUCon
I’ve been to IPMS Eagle Squadron’s show, RDUCon, quite a few times. The show is hosted in a local community college, and though I’d classify it as a small show, it’s generally well-organized and flows smoothly. While not approaching the size of the Old Dominion Open I’d attended back in February, because it’s only an hour away from my house, I see quite a few modelers I have known for years. So it’s always a good chance to stand around and do what modelers do – talk about plastic.
There was a good variety of models on display – everything from the typical historical tanks and airplanes, all the way through fantastic scifi and fantasy work. If I had to guess, I’d say there were ultimately 350 or so models on the tables.
My friend Joel Stone, also known as TrueGunpla on the interwebs, did a great job making sure the Gunpla and scifi tables were full. Many of the same fans of those genres I’d met at ODO showed up to display their work again, and it really added a nice dimension to the show in my mind.
High Level Work All Around
I was impressed by the generally high level of skill on display across all categories. The sheer number of work hours on display boggled my mind as I tried to do a rough estimate. As my mental calculator is not good much beyond the times tables I memorized in Mrs. Cart’s 3rd Grade Class, I topped out at 12×12=144. I decided to just estimate the time, and came with “a whole bunch”.
As I walked around looking at the displays, I was quite fascinated by the conversations. And while I know sweeping generalizations aren’t often fair, I did note an overall theme of discussion.
More than a few of the folks who’d entered into the more traditional categories seemed to be focusing on how much effort they’d put into preparing to be judged. One fellow noted all of the research he did in order to make sure his colors were as accurate as possible. Another was discussing with a fellow modeler the possibility that the seat belts he’d placed in his model were not the correct style – and might hurt his chances at winning an award.
In contrast, the guys milling about the scifi/Gunpla tables had a different theme to their conversation. While there was of course some variance, the overall tone was about the fun they’d had doing the projects. on display. Sure, they were there to have their work judged. But they generally were spending time talking about techniques, favorite kits, or even things totally outside of the event at hand.
Before You Email Me….
Now, I get this is a contest. And there is nothing wrong with competing, and trying to do your best. But as I watched all of this, and thought about my past experiences with model shows, ranging from attendee to club president and head judge, it brought to light the single thing that I think needs to change.
A few days prior to the show, a friend asked me a question that, outside of an IPMS show, might seem absurd. Should he note that his model did not have a particular feature because the real example he was depicting did not have it.
Having been a judge many times before, and having read the manual for judging quite thoroughly, I answered “it should not matter.” But then I went on to say “but because so many judges don’t know the rules, you may as well mark it on the entry sheet.”
It’s Not About Accuracy
The more I observer model show culture, specifically IPMS-USA model show culture, the more I am convinced that the misguided notion of accuracy has essentially “pee’d in the pool”.
I’m not arguing against a modeler pursuing accuracy. That is a personal goal, and if it makes the process fun – go for it. I’m a huge proponent of doing the hobby your way, so that it makes you happy.
But for years I have seen that judges too often allow their own interpretations of accuracy intimidate modelers. The guidelines are clear – it’s about craftsmanship. Closing gaps, filing seams, consistent paintwork, consistency of application – all of those are areas that are clear and objective.
Yet I’ve known countless modelers who were so concerned about being judged for accuracy that it ruined the enjoyment of the hobby. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times – “I didn’t bother finishing it. It wasn’t contest worthy.”
With all this going through my head, I looked back over at the Gunpla guys. Not a concern for any of it. They did their best, they had fun, they set it on the table, and they walked away to wait the result.
Of course, I know there were plenty of traditional modelers doing the same thing. I talked to plenty of them, and the last thing on their mind was whether that shade of brown dust would have been on tanks around Kursk in 1943.
But that general attitude – the misguided pursuit of accuracy in judging – is in my opinion a slow-growing cancer in the IPMS world, one that is ultimately hurting the hobby. And the worst part is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
A clear refocus on craftsmanship can clear the air, and let every modeler know that their work will be judged objectively, in a way that is clearly defined and predictable. The rules are there already in fact. It just takes an insistence by club and organization leadership that things will be done by the book.
On The Sidelines
Ultimately, my dad lost the argument. Despite other parents gathering around and protesting that it was a misinterpretation of the rules, the league officials said I was simply too tall to play.
That walk back to the car was one of the most shameful things I’d had to do in my life up to that point. It was humiliating. My dad used it as a point of teaching, though. He wanted me to know that when it came time for me to interpret rules that it must be done in a fair and objective way.
Many years later, when I had a chance to be head judge at an IPMS show, I made it quite clear that the rule book was about focusing on objective craftsmanship, not subjective notions of accuracy. More than a few volunteer judges argued with me, as if I were suggesting we dissolve into chaos. In one case, I actually had to “fire” a judge because his insistence was so strong I felt it was incompatible with what was the goal for the day. But the rules were clear.
To Be Fair
Of course, I must point out that I’m not singling out IPMS Eagle Squadron. I actually had to leave before the show judging. And no matter how much effort a club may try to put into objective judging by the rules, people will complain. From my standpoint, RDUCon was a very good, very enjoyable show, and I want to thank IPMS Eagle Squadron for hosting another great event.
Still, I must draw back and also look at the bigger picture. At just about every show I’ve been too, the people who didn’t win complain the judging wasn’t fair. The people from out-of-town say it was biased towards folks from the local area . The people from in town say it was slanted for the distant travelers. Whenever it comes to judging, someone will not be happy.
Yet that very phenomenon underscores why objective, consistent, rules based approaches to judging are so very critical. It allows the modeler to focus on a fixed target, the judges to have clear guidelines, and when the inevitable charges of “unfair” come up, the standard can be displayed and held high.
And my friend won’t have to worry about making notes on an entry card about things that should not matter in the first place.
Just like that day that I went to simply have fun playing basketball, but a poor call on the rules yanked that out from under me, I would urge IPMS leaders and members to stay focused on the purpose. Don’t let misguided notions dictate things.
The goal of building models is to have fun. If you want to support the hobby, that must be the primary mission from which all else flows.
(I must offer my sincerest apologies to the automotive fans! When I was walking up and down the tables, taking photos, and also talking with many folks. I simply lost track of which categories I’d taken photos of, and completely missed those areas. Hopefully the club will have a good, full photoset on their own website.)