July 2013 District Direction

By Ken Monzingo
National Board Representative

“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.
– Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)

If I told you that at press time there were 167,215 members of ACBL, give or take a few passings and joinings, you could call that 100% of our brethren. And if I tell you that number changes by only a very few (about 1000 new players come aboard monthly, and about 1000 finally run out of gas), you could call that our history. Continuing on, if I asked you what percentage is age 25 or under, what would you guess? Very low, I suspect.
If I then asked you what percentage is age 12-37, what would you guess? A little more, I suppose. And finally, if I asked you to guess one last quarter-century group, the 60 to 85-year-olds, I know darned well you would guess higher. But how much higher?
Answers: Less than 1%, less than 2%, and more than 67%. Bet you didn’t get those numbers right – probably not too close.
Furthermore, the average age of an ACBLer is now a nifty sixty-nine and change – and maturing. Here in D22 we’re already on the south side of seventy. Yikes! Are we in trouble?
Answer: No.
Once we identified ourselves as septuagenarians, there appeared  a panicked mentality throughout the land that we absolutely must get young people involved – and right now – or we’ll just morph into bored grandkid babysitters. R.I.P., bridge – right?
Answer: No.
As Mark Twain famously mused, “... The report of my death was an exaggeration.” So be it with ACBL; don’t bury us just yet, we’re 76 and flourishing. Is it inaccurate to deny that youth is our only future? Am I flirting with accusations of sacrilege to dare challenge such a profound, accepted declaration of our demise?
Answers: Maybe and Maybe. Trial before sentencing, please; I don’t think I’ll take the safe road here. Hopefully the truth will bear me out, and save my trip to the guillotine hood fashion shop.

The Numbers don’t Lie

For the past five years on the board I’ve asked the ACBL computer gurus to track our league membership by age. Each year the youth numbers (percentages) remain almost exactly the same. In 2008-2013 our age 0-25 membership was also -1%, our 12-37 age group was also -2%, while the 60-85 long-of-tooth age constituted 67% of total members, same as today. Stable, consistent numbers – no increases, no decreases – even though ACBL has been blood-letting an infusion of tens of thousands of junior dollars annually, literally begging youngsters to join us.
But no youth membership growth. None? Almost none.
We treat our juniors well, showering gifts and donations on them in hopes of some success – any success. Snap a smart phone photo of anyone without wrinkles or grey (natural) hair if they walk in the door. Growth? Uh, maybe a little.
Conclusion: ACBL continues to be a successful 76-year-old senior association, and our youth numbers remain small no matter how much we plead, pay and pamper. Hmmm, since we have less than 2% players aged 37 and younger, I wonder what percentage we would have if we chose not to throw big bucks at them?
And I wonder how much success that money would reap if, instead, it was earmarked towards recruiting the 60-85 demographic – wherein lies two-thirds of our membership? Hmmm, again.
Answers: Minuscule decrease in a dissappointing number of youth, and an expected harvest enticing retiring baby boomers.
Why can’t we sign ‘em up?
No secrets here: today’s “kids,” with improving computers, smart phones, and iPads, grow up in a much faster world, foreign to the one we experienced. A world of gadgets, a leisure life in cyber space, doubtful with a desire to be anchored to a bridge table for four hours. As a youngster, would you have spent your time learning two-over-one, or third and fifth best leads ... if you owned the fancy devices above? I really doubt they need us.
Should we continue our Youth Programs?
Yes we should, oh, absolutely. But more frugal. To date, chasing juniors may show little success, but exposing our youth to bridge this early has a pretty good chance of reaping benefits for us (and them) in their later lives. Later being when their kids have graduated and left, when retirement has put new leisure hours on the clock, when they’re searching for new life challenges in the approaching twilight years. Bridge might be there for them then.

What are we doing about it?

Nationally, the league, together with the World Bridge Federation, present the World Open Youth Bridge Championships –  the next of which is in early August of this year in Atlanta. ACBL will also fund youth teams to Istanbul for the World Junior Championships, and add a Youth Protection Policy. Whew, -2%!
As a district, we try to get bridge introduced into schools. Several units do it even better: Alan Rowen and Bill Grant have been devoted to getting our game started at the Chula Vista High School, and to very good results (see their “tournament” photo here). Also see the Unit 533 Bridge2kids success story in the May issue.
There are other youth efforts throughout D22: Orange County Regional chairman Tom Shulman is offering free evening games there for youngsters. President Andy Loh has selected Sayem Ahan, San Diego, as our D22 Youth Liaison. I’m  hoping Sayem contributes occasional guest columns to this newspaper. Yeah.

Peace, my friends.