Carla started fencing in her junior year in high school at Salle Santelli in NYC, continuing her training in NYC with Eddie Lucia. When it came time to go to college fencing took a back seat until her third year when she transferred to Brandeis University and fenced the collegiate season with coach Lisel Judge. Slowly but surely the sword was traded for the pen and she became Division chair, then Section chair and then started on national committees, the notable of which was the Olympic Fencing Committee. In the late 60’s through early 80’s her career in fencing turned to managing a fencing club and fencing school, coaching a high school girls team and turning the creative energies to writing a weekly column in the Boston Globe on fencing activities in New England Division.
In the early 80’s an opportunity arose that was hard to ignore to accept a position as the first Executive Director of US Fencing at its newly established national office at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. A major challenge at that time was to unify a country where rivalry between areas of the country bordered on internecine warfare and communication was key. It was important for everyone to know what the organization was doing; how teams were chosen and to belong to an organization that supported fencers, coaches and clubs. Once those challenges were met it was inevitable that there be growth of the sport. At that time membership was approximately 6500.
When she retired in 2004 the membership was nearing 20,000; the National Championships had grown from 15 events to more than 80 events; there was a regional circuit for 10, 12 and 14 year old fencers; the US fencers were winning medals, not just participating anymore and the office had moved to its own location outside the Training Center with 9 full time staff members. Fencing is alive and well and growing almost faster than the organization can manage.
U.S.F.A – a new name, a new direction, by Carla-Mae Richards
Carla-Mae’s Hall of Fame Speech:
HALL OF FAME – ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I must say that I am overwhelmed by the acclamation and vignettes of my lengthy association with the sport of fencing. It is good to laugh at our foibles and to know that the prods, the jokes, the critiques help us to be better, to learn and to grow. Thankfully I did not remember many of these stories = thus my peace of mind!! My involvement in the sport for the last 52 years (I must have started when I was knee high to a grasshopper!) began as a collegiate athlete. From there I ventured forth to AFLA competitions to division management, to section management, to a fencing business partnership, (club, classes and equipment), to membership on the Olympic Fencing Committee, and finally as the first Executive Director of the USFA – as an instrument in guiding the organization into the business of amateur sport. Though the organization is going through turmoil today, its history, the nature of the sport and those involved in it provide the backbone and faith that it will recover and be better than ever and the wiser for the painful experience.
Being first in any enterprise means traversing unknown territory with tenuous threads to create a successful organization. There are always those scrutinizing from the sidelines, who hold judgment until the pieces either fall into place or fracture. For the sport it was a period of maturation – of gaining respect throughout the ranks, of believing that we could be as good as any European country and that our athletes would be among the best in the world.
Though I never succeeded, as an athlete, beyond New England fencing, there remained the fierce determination of the competitor to prove oneself. And so I traded the sword for the pen and paved the way for future growth – not just in numbers but in stature of and respect for US athletes. It was a roller coaster ride especially with little preparation. Today one would look for a person with sports administration background and perhaps an MBA. I was a computer programmer, a part time high school fencing coach and partner in our own fencing businesses. To say that I tackled the challenges by the seat of my pants is an understatement and I landed on my seat more times than I can recall. The learning process was arduous, not just for me but for all the volunteers who were conditioned to run the organization from the get go
In the early years I had some important mentors, first and foremost was Ralph Goldstein, a name many in this room probably do not know. He was an Olympian – a fencer, a team captain of US teams in the 40’s and 50’s and a man of integrity. He respected each person’s desire to compete and be judged strictly on performance though the sport was riddled with bias and dependent on official’s judgment of actions. There was no electric anything and so athletes relied on the skills of the officials – a tough mandate for any group of people. There was Chaba Pallaghy, a person of strong conviction who spoke what he thought even if it meant dancing with the devil sometimes. I was treading on hallowed ground, a sport dominated by men, on and off the strip. Women could only fence foil and only for four touches instead of five or eight touches instead of 10 because women were the “weaker” sex. Fortunately our world changed, women asserted themselves throughout our culture, and pushed and prodded until they won their equality. So what men feared did happen, women ventured forth and took up the epee and then the sabre and proved they could do whatever anyone else could and do it on equal footing with the men.
When Michel Mamlouk railroaded the organization into the 20th century by creating a national office and staff, I was appointed as the first ED. And once more there were those who stood by my side, no matter how ornery or insistent I became – Ralph Zimmerman was one of my dearest friends who supported me from New England fencing through my tenure at the national office as we forged a new world. And you have heard from my dear friend, George Kolombatovich, who dealt with my vagaries, my stubbornness and my convictions alongside his own and yet we still remained friends
The most important person though who gave me the freedom to pursue my ambition was Ed Richards, a great fencer, a most caring person and a dear friend. Though we were as different as night and day we learned to respect each other and we recognized that friends we can be, married we could not. To our children who survived the upheavals and ambitions of each of us, thanks for acceptance, understanding and love. And Ed did you really have to tell George all those stories!!!
Thank you Bob Largman for coercing me up all those stairs in the subways in Korea and for teaching me the essence of team work, to Ralph Zimmerman for showing me the love of friendship and the sensitivity of an artist in working with the challenges of highly trained athletes and aggressively motivated coaches and talented referees. And to Sherry Posthumus who loved the sport as much as I and forged her own way in the male dominated world. She knew how to laugh at herself and at our foolish fighting and struggles. I hope they are both sipping white wine sitting in the rocking chairs enjoying our show here on earth. To Michael Massik, for stepping into those precarious shoes of Executive Director where one has to be all things to all people as well as walk the tightrope of relationships with sponsors and with the USOC; with athletes and coaches, parents and volunteers. I wish you fulfillment in whatever your next endeavor may be and know that fencing continued to grow through your vision.
And to all the people with whom I had the pleasure and the struggle of working with and for, at the office, at the competitions, on the team trips, thank you for your tolerance and understanding as I grew up in the business of the sport. May we continue to have people with passion, energy, insight and willingness to handle the struggles of the business of fencing and may the medals continue to stack up for US athletes.
And to Andy Shaw thank you for your diligence in protecting our history and for the tender care you have given all of us in highlighting the best we have done and in ensuring the continuation of this recognition of those who have loved and worked for the sport.
Thank you for the tribute, the recognition and the honor you have extended to me tonight.
Fencing is but a stream in life, that we follow as it changes its course, wears down the rocks strewn along the way, and washes away the collected debris. Each of us believes that we can alter the stream for our purposes, yet, in fact, the stream carries us along its predestined path so that all we can do is learn to ride the waves without drowning, view the surroundings to enrich our lives and hope to see the greater expanse on the crest of a wave during the cleansing storms of life.
And my life in fencing has been the ride of all rides – with ever changing scenery and adventures.
Retired Director of Technical Programs, Sept. 2004
First Executive Director, August February, 1983