By John Grossman, D17 President
70, 71, 72 ¼ Why doesn’t someone do something about the advancing age of ACBL members?
In my second column as D17 President, I want to talk about a couple of innovative programs to attract new players, my recent Easybridge! experience, and the role the district might play in membership building.
El Paso Bridge Education and Membership Building
For the last three years, El Paso has run a multi-tier program to teach bridge basics and encourage players to play in sanctioned duplicate games. Two accredited teachers, Rex Glimp and Jay Woods, have developed four modules, and the unit registers 9-12 players for each ten week course There is a waiting list! The “freshman class” learns about point count and opening bids. Sophomores get exposed to bridge conventions. Juniors and Seniors delve into declarer and defender play.
New players have a special game every Sunday and are encouraged to play in the Monday evening game, which allows new players look at their convention card. Unit 159 seeks to match beginners with mentors to smooth the transition to club games. When players earn their first masterpoint the Unit has a big celebration and rewards the player by paying for their first year membership in ACBL! El Paso has used a District 17 grant to support part of this program.
Effective? Ask the 45 new members of ACBL who have participated in this program. El Paso has found the right combination of confidence building, bridge education, and upper level player support.
First Saturday in Colorado Springs
First Saturday is a once a month free game designed to mimic neighborhood social duplicate games. The night starts with a pot luck dinner or sometimes a grill cookout. Partners are guaranteed for everyone in the open game that follows.
First Saturday was originally created so that players could introduce a neighbor to club bridge, or play with a less active spouse. It was thought that a relaxed, friendly game could attract social bridge players. John Dukellis volunteers his time, acting more as a host than as a game director.
One of the interesting and unexpected benefits of First Saturday is that the event has become a social mixer for non life masters. Players from 49er, 99er, and 299er games mix with others in a fun night of bridge. It has become an incubator for new partnerships.
On a recent July 4th weekend, 100 players did their patriotic duty and ate tons of chicken, brats, shrimp, and lobster tails! The 25 table session which followed was the biggest game for Unit 360 that year.
Easybridge! in Greeley, Colorado
Last fall, I was asked to be temporary director of two games in my home town of Greeley, a city of about 100,000 that has only 27 ACBL members. The Wednesday and Saturday games had stumbled to 2½-4 tables. I announced that out of town players could play for free during the first four months. I worked to make the game more friendly and inviting to beginning players. We upgraded the hospitality, bought new cards, cleaned bid boxes, posted monthly info on new bulletin boards, and gave free mini-lessons. All nice, but the fundamental problem remains that only 27 Greeley residents are ACBL members, and everyone is getting older.
In February, I started a series of free Easybridge! classes, held twice a week. Although this program was cobbled together with near zero budget on short notice (due to schedule conflicts and limited venue options), attendance has ranged between 12-17 players. Folks learned the mechanics of bridge and basic bidding. Easybridge! reflects an experiential model of learning. It’s less about hundreds of rules and more about player experimentation. I wasn’t a teacher, I was a facilitator.
Results? Frankly, the jury is still out on this effort. I was pleased with players who taught themselves the potential of a Rule of 20 opening hand. All of my players were engaged in the postmortems: What was the best contract? How could I win more tricks? The players want me to run Easybridge! 2 classes.
I think duplicate bridge is at an inflection point. As we get older, the pool of people willing to run membership building and bridge education events is shrinking. A good role for District 17 is to document successful programs such as those in El Paso and Colorado Springs. The District also has a modest grant program. “CAP” funds from ACBL can provide additional financing, offsetting 75% (max $750) of the cost of date-specific ad campaigns for beginner lessons and membership recruiting.
Let’s talk more about our successes. Outreach and player development is hard work. Encourage folks who take on these tasks . . . . Better yet, volunteer to help out.
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