By Ken Monzingo
National Board Representative
There is a crack in everything ... but that’s how the light gets in. – Leonard Cohen (1934- )
Music and light. Strange bedfellows. Songwriters have enjoyed a long, successful, love affair with “light” songs, some that live on with us. Joyous ones like Sunday school’s “This Little Light of Mine,” Elton John’s tap-along “Shine a Light” (Philadelphia Freedom), Neil Diamond’s classic “Heartlight,” and Debby Boone’s paralyzing “You Light up My Life,” Also those Bible Belt foot-stompin’ revival hymns like Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light.” I’ve hummed portions of each of these, aloud or in my mind. Not so much anymore.
Lyrics like Leonard Cohen’s verse above often reflect political lives. If we don’t have a crack in our thinking we’ll never let another’s view creep in – never see the alternatives. I try to remember this in my personal struggles on the national board of directors, striving for a level playing field for all in our association. I’m not always successful. I may think I’m correct, but hopefully there’s a little enlightenment in my judgment to allow in some rays of the other side’s views. Not sure.
Age of Enlistment
What does this have to do with bridge in the 21st Century? Well, we have our areas of growth to consider on the national level, just as you do in your units and clubs. Oh, we make bravado speak about how we’re dedicated to our newcomers, juniors, teachers, owners, volunteers, and the tooth fairy, but we view each mostly through our own eyes ... often shutting out facts and views just as intense, just as worthy. We’re reluctant to lighten up the gray areas. I believe we need to reassess our priorities, and, as such, here’s my take on recruiting membership:
Newcomers: As long as we understand the average age of the ACBL member is 72-years-and-growing, then it becomes clear that ACBL newcomers come mostly from the dark side of the age spectrum – from retirees, etc. Our newcomers are overwhelmingly found on the fringe of becoming seniors – less than 4% of our total membership is under 50, and this remains constant.
Juniors: We’ve blood-let at all levels to beg them to join ... but they stay away in droves. The few who do play are usually very, very good, which is probably why they stay. The others have lots of electronic toys to occupy their curiosity – little need to compete with the wrinkled crowd. Yes, we should continue our attempts to recruit and keep them, but we need to devote more effort reaching out to our loyal masses. For the past five years I have tracked the ages of all ACBL members. Youngsters under age 20 were, and are, less than 1% of our total. Five years ago, it was the same, four years ago the same, and last year the same. We keep plugging away, but the numbers remain stagnant.
Not a success story, but a reality.
Teachers/Club Owners: Never enough credit given here. Never enough respect. Never enough remuneration.
Volunteers: Ditto. Ditto. Ditto.
Tooth Fairy: Well, I just got two new partials. Sigh, vanity.
Seniors:Eureka! We’ve found us. There we are – Seniors one and all. Each year I checked showed more than 40% of our membership was in the 50-70 strat, and more than 55% of our members ages 70-113! That’s right, and combined leaves less than 4% of all ACBL under 50 – and those figures also remain constant; no change no matter what we do.
BTW: Are we really doing right by the 50+?
Professionals/Top Experts: Nothing to do with age, but less than 1% of our membership make up our superstars, yet their care and keeping maintains heavy influence on the governance of the ACBL, including their international competition travel and play to represent us. How much should we govern for this less than 1% of our membership? We admire our superstars – champions make for the most entertaining stories; and rightfully so – but at what cost? Support them? Yes. But I’ll just stand on my Lux soap box and ask we remember the masses first.
Light my Fire
In bridge governance on the national level I’m expected to make decent, if not always popular, decisions on how to improve our game as a senior way of life. So, too, are you – at any level of management. How serious are we, really? Do any of us allow in rays of difference from the other side? Can our pride and insecurities allow us to truthfully admit we may not know as much as we want you to think?
There’s much bravado in bridge – even (or especially) in our political and Master ranks expecting entitlements. Bridge is not necessarily a game for humility, but what else is better?
Maybe we all could just hum a little of the lyrics while listening to sounds from the outside? I’ll try if you will.
In the meantime ... we’ll leave a light on for you.
Peace, my friends.