Gray Metal Faces – November 8

After witnessing the farcical melodrama between Rune and Annie, Rex entered his next pool bout with a sense of relief. A 5-4 victory (holding a six-parry and attacking in opposition for the final touch) was followed by 5-3 loss, a number of frustrating off-target hits throwing off his concentration. Finished with his pool, Rex signed the referee’s scoresheet, then returned to the Bark Bay camp within the field house.

Coach Dan was seated cross-legged on the floor, his hands orchestrating his tale of Annie’s final bout.  Rex saw Annie and Rune in conversation on the far end of the designated fencing area, deliberately apart from everyone else; he saw no sign of Double-J, then remembered his friend had departed soon after unloading the team’s equipment, declaring his intent to return only in time for the start of sabre at 2.

“Rex, my friend — ” Coach Dan’s voice rising from his bearded face — “how’d it go?” Coach Dan had excused himself for long conversations with Coach Gavvy, and had therefore spent little time watching either strip.

“3-2.” The tall teen frowned. “Almost 2-3. Felt rusty out there.”  On glancing down at the floor, he noticed his new shoes, the ones Coach Dan had given him. “But these — ” sticking his right foot forward like he was about to do the Hokey-Pokey — “they fit great!”

“Continue to use them well, is all I ask.” Coach Dan looked over at Butch and The Bird. “I was just reviewing with our new friends here what they’ve learned today.”

“Oh!” Butch wiped his ample brow. “Well, I can see how important it is to keep your balance. I was watching Rune fence most the time, and I seen when he leaned forward too much, or started backing up too fast, he’d get hit.”

“Excellent!” Coach Dan pointed to The Bird. “And you, Kassie — ” he hadn’t become familiar with her team name yet — “what have you seen today?”

The Bird said she had seen a lot of things today, but did not know yet what words to use for them. Coach Dan was about to elicit more from her when YES! Annie’s excited yell echoed from the far end of the field house’s fencing area. Coach Dan peered over to where Annie, Rune, and the Academy fencers had gathered in front of a moveable bulletin board, on which was posted a large sheet of paper.

“Must have posted the results from the pools.” Coach Dan pointed his chin at Rex. “Go show Butch and — The Bird, right?” She nodded in response, the hint of satisfaction on her face — “go show them.”

The group of fencers had mostly dispersed by the time Rex arrived with his two teammates. Rex searched for his name, saw he was seeded seventh, which sounded right to him based on how well (or not, in his estimation) he had competed.  He also found his teammates’ results, discovering why Annie had screamed and feeling relief that Rune had not finished last.

“Oh!” Rex looked down, saw a shared look of bewilderment on his friends’ faces as they scanned the results:

1 Hutchinson 5 25 12 +13
2 Pine 5 25 14 +11
3 Harris 4 23 10 +12
4 Szurek 3 18 12 +6
5 Williams 3 19 16 +3
6 Yoder 3 20 18 +2
7 Ankiel 3 19 17 +2
8 Jensen 2 19 21 -2
9 Pulaski 1 17 20 -3
10 Owen 1 13 22 -9
11 Banks 0 8 25  -17
12 Mohaptra 0 7 25 -18

It was Rex’s turn, he realized, to be the instructor.  “This shows the results of the pool bouts. Since we had two pools, not everyone fenced each other, so you have to go by the number of victories each fencer had, and how many times they scored or got hit.”

He pointed to the number to the right of his last name. “The three, that’s how many bouts I won in my pool. The next — ” his index finger landing on the number 19 — “is  how many touches I scored in all my pool bouts, and the one after that — ” finger sliding across the page to the 17 — “is how many touches were scored on me.” Totally too many, he wanted to add. “That last number, that’s what’s called the indicator. It’s how many touches you scored, minus the touches scored on you. So I’m a plus two.” And none too happy about that.

The Bird asked what the numbers on the left meant; Rex thought it was obvious, but retained his politely pedantic tone. “That’s your seeding, out of the pools. Annie won all five of her bouts, and had a better indicator than Francis, who also won all five of his in the other pool, so she gets seeded ahead of him.”

“But Harris — ” Butch pointed up at the +12 to the far right of her name — “had a better indicator than Pine.”

Rex shook his head, pointed to the four next to Harris’ name. “You go by wins first. Indicator only matters when the number of wins is the same. Usually the people with more wins have better indicators too, but that’s not always the case.”

The Bird asked why Yoder was seeded higher than Rex, since their wins and indicators were the same. “Next tiebreaker is touches scored. He had one more than me, so he’s sixth, I’m seventh.”

The Bird said she didn’t understand something; how, she wondered, could Annie win the tournament, if she didn’t fence Francis.

“Because I haven’t won anything yet.” Annie’s voice, sharper than usual, came up from behind and commanded everyone to turn in her direction. “Those are just the pool results. Now it’s time for the DEs.”

Rex saw Butch’s blank stare. “Direct elimination.”

“Instead of five touches, we go to fifteen.” Annie was clearly enjoying having everyone’s attention; behind her, Rune stood pensive and silent. “Instead of three minutes of fencing time, there’s three three-minute periods.” She walked up to the results, pointed to Rex’s name. “You’re not in the top four, so you’ve got a play-in bout with Owen. Leslie — ” she looked around quickly, made sure no Academy fencers were nearby — “no problem there. Rune, you’ve got Jamie — I beat him 5-3, how’d you do against him Rex?”

“Lost, 5-2.” Rex wished he had paid more attention to Annie’s bouts, observed what she had done to have so much success in the pools.

“Really?” She backed away from the bulletin board until she caught Rune’s gaze again. “With Jamie, it’s all about tempo. Get him moving his feet, he’ll open himself up if you can just be patient.” She put a hand on his shoulder. “Got it?”

Rune nodded wordlessly. And for some reason, Rex felt inspired to speak.

“Did I tell you what I heard Coach Pat say at States last year?” Fencing coach at Midland High, a volunteer like Coach Dan. Rune shook his head. “I was sitting by myself, waiting for my next bout, and this guy from Midland, can’t his name, but he walked past me real quick and he’s swearing up a storm, then all of a sudden I hear this loud ‘HEY’, and he turns and then I see it’s Coach Pat, running to catch up with this guy.

“Coach Pat faces the guy, puts an arm on his shoulder – I don’t know if he didn’t see me, or saw me and didn’t care – and he says, lemme tell you something about fencing, about sports in general. They’ll keep you young at heart, they tap into that youthful energy we all have, but learn to suppress when we get to be adults. Even if we’re just spectators, sports let us be kids again. But – and there’s a big but here – that only works if you can take the good with the bad. If you only enjoy sports when you win, or your favorite team wins, if loses devastate you, then you’ll grow into a spiteful, mean-spirited person, an old man before his time.

“Now sure, this was Coach Pat talking, but he made a lot of sense to me. We fence to win, and nobody should be happy with a loss. But not being happy is not the same as being miserable.”

Rex pointed with his chin at Rune. “You’re not looking forward to this DE, are you?” Rune shook his head. “Tell you what. This bout with Jamie, think about something you want to improve on. Don’t worry about the score, just focus on that one thing. Next week, in practice, you and I’ll work on that one thing. However much you want, ’till you get the hang of it. And when you’ve got, and can use it to defend yourself in a bout, you’re gonna feel happy again – like a kid.

“I’m making you a promise, right now, to work one-on-one with you in practice, on whatever you want. Deal?” Rex extended his hand towards Rune.

Rune looked up at him, as was the rest of the team. Standingslightly behind Rune, Annie smiled at Rex, gave him a thumbs up.

Rune smiled weakly, slouched forward, took Rex’s, shook. “Deal.”

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