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SiVY A Story of Youth Bridge Success Part 2
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Following up on my recent Thanksgiving Day article, which focused on recognizing the people behind the program, here is more information about Silicon Valley Youth Bridge (SiVY).

There is much to say, and it is difficult to know what folks are most interested in. I will try to answer all questions in the comments section, and encourage other SiVY board members and volunteers to contribute as well!

Getting started

The year 2013 was a whirlwind of activity, and it would take many pages to cover all the details from those first few months. I will try to give a relatively concise overview; some is based purely on memory, so I must apologize for errors and omissions.

When Mukund Thapa and I met that winter to discuss starting a youth bridge program, our initial dream was marketing bridge as a family activity. We weren't sure quite how that would work, and whatever we did we we knew it would require lots of help, so our first step was to explore the level of interest in the local bridge community. It quickly became clear that Unit 503 of the ACBL, at that time presided over by Brian Samuels, was extremely interested! We arranged to give out flyers and a short talk at the next Unit Game, and that is how we began to recruit volunteers.

Also in Winter of 2013, Kevin and I visited Stanford Bridge Club and learned about Stanford Splash, a "weekend learning extravaganza" for 7th-12th graders. We were asked to help Stanford students Ted Sanders and Emily Kelly offer a bridge class at Splash that April, and happily agreed. Thirty-five students registered (maximum enrollment) and 24 showed up for the three hour class. We worked on developing a curriculum for that sort of crash course, and in early April, we did a practice run with two tables of Stanford students. I think it worked pretty well at Splash, and that curriculum became the basis for teaching beginners at summer camp. Splash motivated us to get that first pizza party planned quickly, so that we'd have an event to invite all those students to.

Splash 2013

Above: Stanford Splash class April 2013

While we were planning for Splash, things were taking off big time elsewhere. As I mentioned above, Unit 503 was tremendously supportive of starting a youth program. Webmaster Alan Templeton posted on the Unit 503 website seeking volunteers, and announcements were made at games and classes. An advantage was that I was personally teaching a couple of large classes at the time, and was able to recruit quite a few volunteers through those, including the magnificent Cheryl Haines. Always the professional, Cheryl Haines got us organized from the start, quickly drafting a program description and sending out volunteer assignments.

After a few discussions with core founders, it was determined that our dreams of family bridge would be put on the back burner, and we would begin with a more tried-and-true after-school program. We had the experience of Atlanta Junior bridge and other successful programs to guide us, rather than heading straight into uncharted waters. The ACBL had a structured after-school program available for us to implement.

"Critical mass" was my buzz phrase. We didn't want to get a handful of programs going, without any plan for the kids to meet others their age who played bridge. I wanted something bigger, and my partners were with me. Our ambitious goal was to get ten after-school programs going all at once that fall, along with monthly pizza parties at the bridge center for the students to attend.

Side note: One of the many advantages we have in Silicon Valley is a beautiful and centrally located bridge center. While traffic can be bad at rush hour, it isn't always bad, and there are many school districts that can reach the Palo Alto Bridge Center (in Mountain View) by car in 20 minutes or less. Many more can get there in 30 minutes or less, especially on a weekend. I've heard from people organizing school bridge programs in other areas of North America that the situation is rather different, making it much harder to get kids to events outside of school.

We knew we'd need lots of bridge teachers to meet our goals, and Valerie Baldwin, the Unit 503 Education Chair, got busy trying to organize a TAP (ACBL Teacher Accreditation Program). A problem was that we had not done any significant fund-raising yet, as we wanted to wait until donations were tax deductible. We had only a bit of seed money provided by Unit 503, plus small donations in a jar from unit members. In the end, we lucked out, and the ACBL provided a special TAP for us at no charge that July. It happened that the Education chair at that time, Bryan Delfs, was scheduled to be in SF on other ACBL business, and they added this to his trip. We accredited about 35 teachers, with the agreement that they would each commit to at least one semester of teaching in an after-school program.

Cheryl Haines got busy with marketing, partnering with graphic artist Chris Bunz to develop the organization's visual identity. A name and logo were chosen. Cheryl, Alan, and Mukund worked feverishly on the website, and launched it in May, before the first pizza party.

On April 30, we had a meeting with Lauren Friedman from Center for Bridge Education. This was one of the many ways in which we were blessed. CBE offered to take us on as a "DBA", giving us 501(c)3 status with minimal effort, and no lawyers, as far as I recall. A professional accountant and bridge aficionado, Lauren continued to handle for SiVY all things related to the 501(c)3 (IRS filing, donor acknowledgments, etc.) through 2016, working with our treasurer Mukund. (In early 2017 we moved our non-profit sponsorship from CBE to the Peninsula Bridge Education Foundation (PBEF) of Unit 503. I believe that Alan Templeton and Sue Griswold now handle much of what Lauren did before, with Mukund still acting treasurer.)

While all the rest was happening, all hands were on deck planning the first pizza party. We were determined to have great attendance, and I twisted arms as needed to extract a promise to attend from every junior bridge player I knew within driving distance, plus begging them to bring friends. There were many pleas to unit members to bring their children and grandchildren. That first pizza party on May 19 attracted 38 young people with at least some interest in card games. Helen Chang took awesome photos and these became the face of the program.

Above: The inaugural pizza party, May 2013

After the pizza party, the main focus was on getting after-school programs in place. The relatively easy part proved to be recruiting and training teachers. Actually getting the programs into the schools, and kids signed up for them was definitely the harder part. Many volunteers were active in this endeavor. Helen Chang compiled a long list of area schools with contact information, and Lori Spaeth headed up the school outreach effort. A big score was Lynn Shannon's successfully persuading Boys & Girls clubs to give bridge a try, and we ended up with programs at three locations. This was extremely exciting to me, and I had visions of bridge becoming a staple Boys & Girls club activity around the country, the way basketball already was.

The question I am probably asked most often is how we got the schools on board. This requires getting the administration to agree, having a specific teacher (or other staff member) commit to hosting, and then finally signing up enough kids. Cheryl Haines created a PowerPoint presentation of the program we were offering to send to interested administrators. We had brochures and posters ready to be personalized for each school, once a day and time was set up. While the posters and brochures were a professional touch, we no longer use them. The key to recruiting is an insider's personalized outreach. Ideal is a popular student and/or popular teacher who is actively recommending the class. Also highly effective, in some cases, can be a parent contacting other parents directly. Yet even when you have one or more of those inside recruiters, it is hit or miss whether enough kids will sign up. There were situations which seemed perfect, where we had two or three insiders energetically recruiting, and still could not get enough kids for a class (we started out requiring a minimum of 12 students, hoping to keep at least 8, though we did make exceptions and held classes for some smaller groups). There were at least a couple of cases where we didn't seem to have much going for us and still somehow enough kids signed up.

We were lucky to have many schools to reach out to within our radius. I'd guess in order to get 10 programs started, we worked with at least 30 schools. In most cases we had introductions, though I believe there was at least one success story through cold calling. Many local bridge players responded to our calls for introductions. Some introductions were to schools their own children or grandchildren attended. Some people knew a staff member. A handful of local bridge players were parents or teachers themselves! That is the ideal scenario, in my opinion. One especially successful and long-running program was started by Leila Sink at her daughter's middle school. Leila, a high level tournament player, was the head bridge teacher and also had direct contact with many parents. She and her daughter Kyra were great recruiters.

Above: Leila Sink helps a new player

Meanwhile, as we worked to get the after-school programs and pizza parties going, there was much administrative work to be done. Bob Horowitz and his committee conducted an organized fund-raising campaign once our tax deductible status was set. We needed to establish a Board of Directors, start having meetings, taking minutes, and all that jazz. This was all stuff I knew next to nothing about, yet my partners insisted that I be "President." They assured me that the Vice President does all the work, and while they were probably joking, Sue Griswold did not disappoint. We needed a project manager, and Michael Bodell joined in that role. By August, we were poised for success, with a dedicated board of directors, strong support from the local ACBL Unit, thirty-five accredited teachers, and numerous other energized, competent volunteers.

That's my overview of how we got it all started. Read on for more about SiVY programs through the years.

After School Programs: Plans and reality

Our ambitious goal was to start 10 programs in the fall of 2013, and we did! Nine got underway in August and September, and another was added before the end of the year.

We felt that having younger people teach would be a major asset, and decided that while most of our teachers would be unpaid volunteers, we would offer to pay any college students we could get to teach. We tried to recruit Stanford students, since they were local, and a few were clearly qualified. I believe two Stanford students attended the TAP. In the end we had only one college student teach, and for only one semester. We also had a recent college graduate, Ryan Wessels, teach as a volunteer that first year in a Boys and Girls club, which I think was awesome. The students loved him, and I wish we could have managed to have more of that.

We set out to implement a highly structured support network, where all of our teachers would be part of a team. The plan was to have two head teachers for each class, so that it was likely that at least one could always be there, irrespective of vacations and other conflicts. We also signed up many table helpers, who were not necessarily accredited teachers, and the plan was to have one adult volunteer per table. We inquired and kept records of everyone’s likely availability in order to have a structured substitute teacher process. In addition to the TAP, later in the summer of 2013, I offered a smaller teacher training session focused just on the Kitty Cooper Lesson series we were planning to use in the schools. We had a curriculum committee and monthly teacher meetings scheduled so we could share what we were learning about how to best implement this program. Elianna Meyerson, an experienced high school math teacher, offered training on dealing with teenage students.

Peggy Sprague made a six-month commitment as chair of After-School Programs Operations and compiled loads of information for teachers. She was determined to document clear and consistent processes. As Peggy discovered, the lack of uniformity among various schools and school districts created challenges. Some schools require extensive background checks, including fingerprinting, while others are much looser about who can volunteer. If a teacher has already gone through a background check process for one school, it usually won't be accepted by another school. At that time, California law required that everyone working in schools - students, staff and volunteers alike - needed to have a negative TB test. While we found that not all the schools we were dealing with would ask for proof, we requested that all of our volunteers get this done. Since then I believe the law has changed, and in any case we are not as structured in our approach, so I believe that our volunteers now get TB tests only if requested.

Betty DePaola took charge of the substitute teacher process. She was quite methodical about it, and worked to set up a system that would be sustainable, though she herself did not intend to continue in that role indefinitely. At the end of 2013, Elinor Tanck took over as essentially a one woman after-school program operations committee. She handled supplies, teacher assignments and more. Sadly, Elinor passed away suddenly in October 2014. Ivy Cheuh then took over, primarily working on supplies.

Gradually, much of the structure loosened, and the program has morphed into one where SiVY provides supplies and guidance to teachers, while they each manage their individual after-school programs largely on their own.

Above: A recent class co-taught by youth players Arthur Zhou and Michael Hu

People usually seem skeptical when I tell them that I personally don’t actually have much experience with after-school programs, yet there is good reason. While I was heavily involved in planning curriculum, etc in that first year, I have never taught regularly in a school. The one program for which I was head teacher fell apart after just two sessions when we couldn’t get enough kids to commit!

I did do some subbing and visiting classes in those first couple of years, but I never did the heavy lifting of being in charge every week for an entire semester or school year. I'm hopeful that others who have done this heavy lifting will be willing to answer relevant questions readers may have.

 

Pizza Parties

The first pizza party, which laid the groundwork for the whole program, was a huge success. Much work went into ensuring great attendance, and then a fun time for the guests. The marketing materials said "PartyPizzaPlay and much more", and I was determined to deliver on that promise.

At that inaugural party, some form of social bridge or whist was played at every table, with mentors helping. Frank Smoot asked bridge trivia questions and tossed prizes, sporting event style, to those who shouted out the answer. We took advantage of the bridge center's excellent AV system, showing a short fun bridge video complied by Vinita Gupta, and giving a BBO demonstration on the big screen. There was a bridge Word Scramble which was completed to enter a drawing for more prizes.

Many great photos were taken. While aspects of pizza parties have changed over the years, the great photos have been a staple, as have been the pizza, cake, and prizes.

Starting with the second pizza party, we introduced some form of optional duplicate at each party. As students were learning mini-bridge in the after school programs, for a short time we had a separate mini-bridge section. That didn't last long, however, in part because some teachers weren't even introducing mini-bridge, and even where they were, the classes were not all up to the same lesson. There was one special pizza party and mini-bridge tournament held at a Boys and Girls club in November of 2013, and another Boys and Girls club party in Spring of 2014. For the latter, a nearby elementary school brought the bridge class over on a school bus, and this was the only official bridge field trip I know of. I wish there had been more!

For most pizza parties through the years, there has been a section A and section B. Most recently, attendance from experienced players has been down, and more kids are opting to just play social bridge, so there is usually just one small section of duplicate. There are nearly always at least a couple of brand new players, and there have been two or three tables of such kids at times. Some come not even knowing what a trick is. We have had volunteers who are especially skilled at working with this level, getting them playing some sort of trick-taking card game within a couple of hours; some even get to bidding in that crash course. Bill Bailey, Margot Livenspargar, Leila Sink, and Randy Ryals all stand out in my mind for having frequently worked effectively with the beginners tables at pizza parties. Joni Smith has often introduced the game Handz to younger kids at the parties, and I've enjoyed observing how engaged those tables are.

Above: Joni Smith helps kids play Handz at a 2017 Pizza Party

While somehow we manage to have a pizza party consistently (almost) every month, scheduling is erratic. Stephanie Youngquist and her team do work hard to set dates in time to give at least a couple of months notice. Still, perhaps attendance would be better if we could always do the same time on, say, the 4th Sunday of the month. However, that is not possible because we must work around the availability of the bridge center and the core volunteers. Also, some pizza parties are held at other locations, in conjunction with sectionals.

Pizza parties were primarily intended as a way for the kids learning bridge in after-school programs to get together at least once a month with young people from other schools. We were eager for them to know they were not the only young folks around playing bridge! To some extent, pizza parties have indeed served that purpose. However, the majority of the attendees at pizza parties have never been from the after-school programs. They are tournament playing youth and their friends, kids who attended summer bridge camp, children and grandchildren of older bridge players, and others who hear about the program via word of mouth. Regular Bridge Winners contributor Michael Xu is a heartwarming example of the seed that can be planted just by offering these pizza parties. See his description in this article.

There are detailed reports of each event available here, most with photos.

Other Programs and Events:

 

Parent-Child Games

SiVY's first Parent-Child game was held in June of 2013, with 4 tables, and the second in January of 2014 with 5 tables. Parent-Child games continued as a special event, not held on any regular basis. We started out aiming for about every other month, and did manage to hold six events in 2014. Attendance grew steadily for quite a while until it reached a peak of 12 tables. Since then, frequency of events has dwindled, though attendance hasn't.

We were able to get Parent-Child games started, even before any other programs were up and running, due to a handful of kids in the area who already played a bit of bridge. Kevin and Isha were regulars, though they were deemed Not Eligible for masterpoint purposes (we used the objective criteria that when both parent and child were both life masters, they could play for fun, but wouldn't be eligible for masterpoints). This has changed since we are now able to include a separate section for less experienced players, and a handful of "SiVY kids" have became life masters. Also, more recently, when Kevin has played it has been with his grandmother, Judy Zuckerberg, who is not a life master.

It was extremely helpful to have a core dedicated group of parents and grandparents, so that we were always sure of enough tables for an event. It's much easier to grow the event from there than to start from scratch. Soon we were able to have separate sections for more and less experienced players (self selected). The P-C game has welcomed quite a few first-time duplicate players, both parents and children. It has been especially thrilling and rewarding when a parent has learned to play bridge specifically so that they could partner their child in one of these games.

One event which has been consistently on the schedule for years in a row a special Parent-Child game on Father's Day for five years in a row. The twist on Fathers Day is that the "child" need not be a junior, and along with the usual crowd we do get several adult "children" partnering a parent. This event has been especially well attended and enjoyable.

Above: Fathers Day Parent Child Game 2016

 

These events fill me with joy, and I wish we could manage them more often. Will Watson is always happy to direct, but it's amazingly difficult to find a free weekend afternoon, with no Unit games, local sectionals or other conflicts such as our own monthly Pizza Party. Our next P-C game is scheduled for 12PM-3PM Feb 2, 2020, Super Bowl Sunday.

In January of 2015, Sue Munday published a wonderful article focused on SiVY Parent-Child games in the ACBL Bulletin.

 

Summer Camp

Patty Tucker of Atlanta Junior Bridge offered a great deal of useful advice overall, and she emphasized the advantages of summer camp. We were determined to get one going, and to get great attendance. We succeeded in doing this for the first time in 2014, with forty-five campers attending the one-week program, including twenty-two in the beginners group.

Above: Beginners at Summer Camp 2014

Summer camp has several advantages over weekly after-school classes. Kids are not tired and distracted, frequently forgetting what they learned from one week to the next. There is time for socializing as well as bridge. Coaches get an opportunity to interact with parents at pickup and drop-off, which facilitates communication about tournaments and other recommendations to get the kids more involved.

While summer camp programs in Atlanta Junior Bridge were free, we decided it would work better for us to charge about enough to cover costs (renting a venue, snacks, supplies, etc. - staff was all volunteer). We researched similar programs in the area and came up with a fee a bit below market rate. We definitely didn't want cost to deter anyone from attending camp, and we actively proffered scholarships. Teachers in the after-school programs sent home letters with scholarship offers to selected students, and we also tried to make clear that need-based scholarships were available upon request. That first year, we had a couple of students register on free scholarships. Alas, both were no shows to camp. After that, we offered a heavily discounted price, but never a free scholarship. We had learned that it was useful to have the families invested. We have also learned that few took advantage of our scholarship offers based on financial need, probably because our type of program generally does not work for lower-income families. They are more likely to need all-day childcare, and/or lack the resources to get their children to and from a half-day program. Still, I am confident that even for higher-income families, getting a letter offering your child a scholarship does make them more likely to attend. Unfortunately, as far as I know we no longer have teachers sending those letters home. Maybe we can go back to trying that again this year if attendance needs a boost!

There is much to say about the details of our summer camp program, and perhaps we will dedicate a long article just to that at some point. I'll need help, given that I was involved for only the first two of the six years SiVY camp has been held. There is a huge effort involved. In 2015 we tried two weeks, inviting all levels. I personally was burnt out after that. I may have tried to do too much, including things like engaging guest speakers, getting all campers playing on BBO and "friended", as well as signed up on Bridge Winners and ACBL memberships.

There have been four more years without me involved, and it is still an enormous, and successful, undertaking, though perhaps a bit lower-key. More advanced players are now encouraged to volunteer as table helpers, rather than SiVY offering a separate group for them. My understanding is that this is great for the newer kids, who like learning from people closer to their age.

Attendance has fallen somewhat through the years, I think in part because the pool of local bridge players with children or grandchildren the right age has largely been run though. I believe camp has continued to draw reasonable attendance through word of mouth. It has a good reputation, and deservedly so, thanks to the Herculean efforts of several volunteers.

 

Casual Fridays

Casual Fridays started in 2014 as a followup to the first summer camp. It was something of a compromise. We wanted to offer weekly Saturday drop-in classes, as the Atlanta Junior Bridge program did. However, there were a couple of stumbling blocks there. The main one was that, despite the abundance of awesome volunteers, nobody was willing to commit to every Saturday (either being there personally, or being responsible for making sure enough volunteers were). The other problem was that there didn’t seem to be any one time that was good for many people (we had surveyed campers to try to find out).

Above: Casual Friday Fun

Friday nights are not ideal. The younger kids are tired and tend to be punchy. There is traffic from most places to get to the bridge center.

Yet there were some apparent benefits to Friday nights. There was an existing duplicate, so the club would be open anyway. My instinct was that Friday evenings would be a time many volunteers would be available, even if not every week (alas, my instincts proved wrong on this, and it has often been difficult to get volunteers to come Friday night). By making it "casual", there was no need to stress over how many would show up this week, though we do request advance signup, mostly for ordering pizza.

Thanks to the dedication of Will Watson and Randy Ryals, Casual Friday remains a core program five years later. While they don’t get huge attendance, it offers a weekly playing option to anyone who wants it. Attendance usually picks up before high school championships, with high school students wanting to practice. Will Watson might have canceled his small Friday evening duplicate by now if not for his dedication his customers, coupled with the desire to keep the club open for Casual Fridays.

One of my regrets is that we have never managed to offer that weekly drop in program on Saturdays. If we’d had the volunteers to do it, I feel certain enough kids would have come to make it worthwhile. Even if small at first, had we stuck to a consistent time, I believe some families would have scheduled their other activities around it.

At least with Casual Fridays we accomplished our goal of having some sort of weekly play on offer as a followup to camp and other programs.

 

Mentoring Program

In 2015 SiVY began to offer an individual Mentoring Program, based in part on advice from Lynn Shannon, who has for many years organized and run a highly successful mentoring program for Synopsys Science Fair. Lynn was also one of the first bridge mentors to sign up for the SiVY program.

Janice Nakao agreed to manage the program, and she continues in that role today. The mentor program is available to youth players of any level who are ready to play in open duplicates. As we all know, playing with a strong partner is one of the best ways to improve. I believe this has been a valuable offering, which about 15 kids have taken advantage of "officially" since its inception. While not all pairings are successful, most of them have been. There are a few cases where the mentee became something of a peer (or even stronger player!) than the mentor, and they continued to play together on that basis.

In addition, there have also been quite a few one-time and/or unofficial mentor-mentee pairings. I've found particularly rewarding the handful of "mentoring games" we've organized as part of YNABC training. These have generally been held at Unit Swisses, and either a mentor kibitzes a pair training for YNABC, or partners a youth whose regular partner isn't available that day.

Above: Max Schireson coaches at a 2017 Mentoring game

 

High School Championship

In 2015, there were just enough area high-school students playing bridge to believe we could pull off a reasonable event. The main idea was to plant a seed, and have an event for our middle-schoolers to work towards when they moved on to high school.

High school championship is not exclusively a SiVY event. It is co-sponsored by CBE and Peninsula Youth Bridge (a separate program, unconnected to the Unit 503 PBEF). We all put a lot of effort into high school championship, and a fair portion of the SiVY budget. I feel this is an important program. While there have been exceptions, it seems much harder to get programs started in high schools vs. middle schools, and high school championships does seem to have the intended effect of incentivizing students to continue with bridge, start bridge clubs at high school, etc. The suggestion to allow middle-schoolers to participate comes up almost every year, and I have fought against that. It "feels right" to have one event per year which is just for high school students.

We have worked to make this a serious championship event, including published conditions of contest, written and maintained by Lynn Johannesen. Will Watson is the director each year. There have been several articles about Bay Area High School championship posted on this site, in 2018 by Sarah Youngquist, in 2016 by Lynn Johannesen, and in 2015 by Michael Bodell.

 

YNABC sponsorship

We knew from early on we wanted to encourage and support kids going to the ACBL Youth National Championships. I'd had experience with Kevin playing, and had heard enough from Patty Tucker and others to believe that kids who played in this were far more likely to get hooked on the game than others.

We didn't quite manage to get the program up and running for 2014, though a few SiVY kids did go to Vegas and had a great time playing in it. That was helpful towards getting the program running in 2015 since those kids and their families could speak of their positive experience.

YNABC has been an important program. While some of the kids sponsored would have played anyway, and there were therefore some objections to offering them funding, many more went who would not have otherwise. It has been especially useful to have a specific event to train for, since we don't otherwise offer many formal opportunities for improvement. The specifics of YNABC training have varied from year to year, depending in part of who is managing the program (most recently Max Schireson and Theron Tock), yet it always offers something which is not available the rest of the year.

While it's wonderful that some of our kids have had tremendous results, it's particularly gratifying that they all seem to have a good time and return more interested in the game, with a fun bridge trip to tell their non-playing friends about.

 

Newsletters

In 2014, SiVY began publishing an online newsletter three times a year, in order to keep supporters informed, as well as youth members and their families. Originally it was produced in conjunction with our parent organization, CBE, and then independently starting in 2017. Thanks to the dependability of Cheryl Haines, often with assistance from Lynn Johannesen among others, the electronic newsletter has been consistently sent out three times a year. Alan Templeton can always be relied on to do what is needed on the website. I enjoy the newsletters as a quick review of SiVY highlights. The November 2019 edition, the 18th, was sent out last month. Links to past editions can be found here, where you can also sign up to be a recipient of future newsletters.

 

The Big Game of Bridge

When I learned of the traditional rivalry between Stanford and Cal football, known as the Big Game, fortunately both universities had bridge teams at the time, and I knew we had to do this! I also saw a special way to commemorate my friend Rev Murthy, a Cal alumnus, who I've always known would have loved to be part of project like SiVY. Thus was born the Big Game of Bridge for the Rev Murthy Cup.

This event was, in my biased opinion, simply awesome. It was shown on BBO vugraph and lots of fun. We didn't get the press coverage I'd hoped for outside the bridge world, yet it was more than worthwhile. Yet it turns out to be quite a feat to get eight college students from two universities (one 60 miles away) together on the same day, and what was intended to be an annual event has been held only twice. Stanford won in 2014 and Cal in 2015. Both years, a few of us paid a visit after the event to the respective university bridge clubs to present the trophy.

The failure to keep this event going is one of my major disappointments. A large trophy with Rev's name now sits in a closet at the Bridge Center, and saddens me every time I see it.

Above: 2015 Big Game of Bridge

Junior Trials Training Sessions

From the beginning there was a bit of overlap between SiVY and the USBF training program, both having started in 2013, with Kevin, Isha and I all immersed in both, as were a few of our other young volunteers. As some SiVY kids started becoming serious players, there was a lot more. Now many SiVY kids are participating regularly in the USBF online training program and junior trials. Several have already competed successfully at world championships.

For the 2015 Junior trials there were 14 juniors from the Bay Area participating. Some of them, especially the younger SiVY kids, had never played behind screens and we wanted to give them practice. Parents ordered screens from China, and Will Watson and I held several practice sessions that fall. Barry Goren, who at the time was an active mentor and co-coordinator of the USBF online training program, even came to town for one of them. Will Watson and I, with help from other mentors including Li-Chung Chen, repeated these training sessions in 2017 and have done so again this fall, when there are 25 juniors from the Bay Area who will be competing.

Above: Junior trials training December 2019

 

"Double Dummy" screening

On January 15, 2019, largely thanks to the efforts of Qing Lu and Michael Hu, SiVY held a screening of John McAllister's film "Double Dummy". After the movie there was a 30-minute Q&A session, which included Adam Kaplan, one of the stars. One hundred and forty-six tickets were sold. It was a fine event, and I'm very glad we did it, though I have no knowledge of whether it brought any new players into the game.

 

Family Card Game Day

This event was organized by Marcy Tivol and Sandy Erickson, held only once, in conjunction with a 2015 Parent-Child duplicate. About 25 parents and children attended, primarily families with at least one member who didn't yet play any bridge, including some children too young for bridge, but ready for other card games. There was social bridge, a lesson given by Frank Smoot, and other games. I recall beautiful snacks and decorations (Marcy is our graphic designer!), and it looked like people had a great time. I would call it an unqualified success, except I remember being disappointed that, AFAIK, none of the families returned for future pizza parties or camps. I could be wrong about that. In any case, I think this is a great idea, and wish we could have more, but it takes a lot of work to organize and promote.

 

New Life Master celebration

Above: Randy and Sue congratulate Sarah, who in Feb 2018 became the second SiVY kid to make LM

We celebrate each SiVY kid who becomes a Life Master by honoring them at the next pizza party, and adding their name to a plaque which hangs at the bridge center. There are now seven such kids, and several more are getting close!

 

Annual Volunteer Recognition event

Above: 2016 Volunteer Reception

It took convincing for me to support this event at all at first, and now I recognize its importance. My slowness to come around was a sign of my inexperience. The event has been a lot of fun, with a drawing for gifts which include games with pros, fine wine, bridge books, and gift cards, all donated. It is an opportunity for volunteers to get to know each other better and discuss the program. It's definitely worthwhile to fund some refreshments and champagne.

I highly recommend to anyone attempting to start a youth bridge organization that you cherish your volunteers, and put effort into making what they do fun and rewarding for them as well as the youth players they are helping introducing to bridge!

SiVY By The Numbers

Each spring Michael Bodell puts together some stats from the previous year of operations. Below are totals for approximately 6 years of May 2013-May 2019, as well as more recent numbers.

Above: Michael Bodell with students at the Nov 2013 Boys and Girls Club Mini-Bridge tournament/pizza party

 

May 2013-Present

In the SIVY database we have 716 youth.

In our schools' teaching program we have done more than 725 hours of teaching of more than 740 distinct students. We've done about 7,650 student-hours of bridge classes.

We've done more than 100 events (pizza parties, parent-child duplicate, HS championships, camp, etc.): 107 so far. We've had at least 3316 attend these events (obviously not all distinct people). Only the kick-off casual Friday is counted in these events. Other Casual Fridays, and special events such as the mentoring program and YNABC are not counted in the above.

For YNABC we've sponsored 111 youth players over the past 5 YNABC events.

In the year before SIVY started (2012) in district 21 there were 18 youth players and just over 30 juniors (which include the 18 youth). The youth had won 695.26 MP and the top 30 juniors (counting the youth) had won 1796.63.

In 2018 (the last full year) there were more than 67 youth players from District 21 who had won 2020.62 points and the top 66 juniors from district 21 had won 4073.41 points in the year - both more than twice as much.

In 2019 to date (up to Oct 6 MP total) the top 79 D21 juniors (those with 2.31 MP or more in the year) have won 4,715.97 MP - and this is before the last 3 months of the year, and before the SF Nationals! Limiting to the top 82 youth D21 players (those with 0.6 MP or more in the year) they've already won 2,939.73 MP. When you count the last 3 months of the year, including SF NABC, it wouldn't be surprising if 2019 were 50% more MP than 2018 for young D21 players.

 

2018-19

We sent 21 to the YNABC and all earned masterpoints and there were many successes both in the youth events and in the open events.

We had 30 people at the past summer camp, including 10 brand new players.

We had 36 high school players at the High School championship.

We've had 327 youth attend our pizza parties and events in the past year (this isn't a distinct count, this is a total of the attendance in each pizza party, so if one person attended 3 parties they count as 3 in this count).

Our school programs had 841 student-class-sessions (so if one person attended 5 classes, they'd count as 5 in this count). Included in these there were 54 distinct new-to-SiVY students.

Looking at the junior ACBL masterpoint race there are 54 District 21 Juniors with masterpoints through the end of May, and of those more than 90% are SIVY juniors. Looking at the ACBL as a whole there are 348 Juniors with masterpoints in 2019, so about 1 in 7 active Juniors in the ACBL is a SiVY player.

 

Here is some of the year by year breakdown of event participation:

A few more thoughts, including some of my regrets

 

Social Media

Shortly after we got started, Cheryl Haines created a Silicon Valley Youth Bridge Facebook page, which she continues to maintain and post to regularly. Before SiVY, I was a "Facebook lurker", accepting a few friend requests, and occasionally checking out what those friends had posted, yet never posting or making any friend requests myself. That all changed after SiVY. I started inviting all the bridge players I could find to be my friends, and posting actively about youth bridge. I was especially keen to friend juniors, so that I could "tag" them in my posts. When a photo gets tagged, it will often be seen by hundreds of young friends of that junior. I find it especially gratifying when an obvious non-bridge playing teenager congratulates a friend for a bridge success.

I believe one of the reasons SiVY is seen as so successful is that I have posted about it frequently, both here and on Facebook, and we have gotten several writeups in the ACBL Bulletin. While I doubt that visibility has brought in many new youths, I do think that it helped with eliciting volunteers and financial support. There are other youth programs doing a lot, but perhaps less visibly.

 

The Cardturner

What factors persuade a student to sign up for a bridge class, club or camp? A strong recommendation from a teacher or friend is commonly what it takes. In many cases the student has a parent or other family member who has played bridge, or at least has some positive association with the game. Often it takes a combination of these factors.

Yet there is one other factor I have seen in play over the years, independent of the others. From time to time, it comes to our attention that the only reason a student was interested is that they read Louis Sachar's The Cardturner.

The most impactful anecdote I have in mind is what happened when Kevin started a high-school bridge club senior year. He had persuaded enough of his friends from chess club to attend to satisfy the minimum requirement for getting the club registered. Then he started advertising, not expecting much result.

On the first day, six freshmen girls that neither he nor any of his friends knew showed up for bridge club. Their only knowledge of the game came from reading The Cardturner! Though most of that group didn't get serious about the game in high school, five years later, three of them took part in the USBF Junior Training program and will be competing this week at the Junior Trials.

Louis Sachar is a popular, often humorous, children's author, and also an avid tournament bridge player. Virtually all school-aged children and their parents are familiar with his books, and most have read one or more (Holes, which won awards and was made into a movie, is probably the best known).

Over the years, SiVY has ordered numerous copies to give as prizes, and arranged to have them autographed by Louis Sachar. I've encouraged kids to give their copy to a friend who doesn't yet play bridge when they are done. Though I can't claim to have done any empirical research, getting this book more widely circulated seems like a worthwhile investment to me. If you aren't sure what to do to help attract younger people to bridge, consider liberally gifting The Cardturner. Though it's generally listed as a teen/young adult novel, I've found that it's fine for most kids as young as 9 or 10, and most adults enjoy it.

 

The Personal Touch

Anyone involved with promoting any event surely knows that sending a mass email is nowhere near as effective as a personalized message. And anyone involved with promoting bridge probably knows that sending a general invitation to play is nowhere near as effective as an invitation which includes "I have a good partner for you."

This applies to youth as much as to older players. An experience I have relived multiple times goes something like this: I send a message to about 30 kids encouraging them to play, and offering to help them find partners for an upcoming sectional. After several days, only one has responded. This one is now my asset. I now send a personal message to three or four appropriate potential partners saying that I have someone I think they'd match well with who needs a partner. Can they play? Almost invariably at least one of them will indeed want to play, despite the fact that they didn't reply to my earlier message. If I'm lucky, exactly three of them will want to play, and now I can make two partnerships!

This type of personal outreach works, and can feel rather rewarding. Yet it is also exhausting. It isn't uncommon for a player to ask for help finding a partner, then be slow to respond to followup messages.

The same sort of personal outreach improves attendance at pizza parties and just about any event. Back in the early years, when I was living, eating and breathing SiVY, and it was all personal for me, I couldn't bear the thought of a poorly attended event. If signup didn't look good for an upcoming pizza party, I'd get busy with personal messages. It almost always made a significant impact. If you are willing and able to spend the time and effort needed, I highly recommend incorporating as much personal outreach as you can into your programs.

 

 

Regrets, I have a few...

In keeping with the personal touch thoughts above, one of my regrets is that we have never been able to maintain an active "tournament coordinator" A couple of times I've had a relatively young tournament player agree to take on this role, but then life got it the way and they weren't able to remain active. My vision is a young player who can relate well to the kids, who gets to know them (perhaps by attending pizza parties and Casual Fridays) and encourages them to play more, helping form appropriate partnerships and teams as needed.

Along the same lines we have never maintained a "retention" program. There have been many, many kids who have attended pizza parties, sometimes even several parties within a year, and then disappeared without us following up on why, or attempted to get them back. I used to do some of this myself, but I confess I got burnt out. Alas, this just doesn't seem to be a volunteer role that appeals to anyone. I'm pained by how many kids we used to see regularly, and now not at all. The good news is that I am confident that even if we never see them again at a SiVY event, a seed has been planted and they are far more likely to take up bridge when the opportunity arises at some later point in their lives. They are also far more likely to sign up their own children for a bridge class or club.

I feel quite badly that there is less going on bridge-wise at Stanford University, which is in our backyard, than before SiVY existed. I'm not sure why we haven't made more effort, or why any efforts made haven't been more successful. It's been a couple of years since Stanford has even had a team in the ACBL Collegiate Bowl. On a related note, it's a real shame that there isn't always a bridge class at the biannual Stanford Splash program (for middle and high school students) which helped inspire SiVY back in 2013. Such programs, where a bridge class is almost certain to be well attended, are the low-hanging fruit of youth bridge. Even if few of the attendees continue with bridge in the near future, these programs are a relatively easy way to plant seeds. The DeCal bridge class at Berkeley (see Part I of this article) is another example of such a program. Given how hard it usually is to get young people in the door for a bridge class, I think we are remiss in not putting more effort into programs where that aspect is not a problem.

Another thing that's disappointing to me is that there isn't more "peer mentoring". For example, I would love to see the youth camp volunteers each take one or two kids under their wing and follow up with them persistently after camp (Sarah Youngquist has indeed done some of this). Of course bridge isn't for everyone, and some kids won't be interested in continuing. But for the majority, they will have interest, but many conflicts, and personalized outreach will be key to getting them to find time for bridge. Find them partners and/or invite them personally to events with assurance that there will be at least one familiar and welcoming face. This is true in so many areas, yet I understand that volunteers have their own lives, and most are not willing to go this far.

This brings me to my biggest regret. When I was president and more actively involved in all aspects of SiVY, I did not properly appreciate my fellow board members and all the volunteers who worked with me. For a while I was obsessed, and did not have patience for those who purported to care about youth bridge, yet dared to have a life outside of SiVY. I think the rest of the board members tolerated me only because they cared so much about our mission, and felt I brought a lot to the table, despite my faults. I remember hearing that I was described as "relentless", and I suppose that was more of a positive than a negative. Yet I recognize that I did not treat people well, perhaps in part because I had never tried to run anything before, and was never comfortable in that role. Through this experience I have perhaps gained some maturity, and have definitely gained respect and appreciation for all the contributions of the wonderful people I've worked with.

 

OK, I'm going to stop here, in the hopes that I've offered some useful perspective, answered some readers' questions, and haven't discouraged anyone from taking the plunge and giving a youth bridge program in your area a try! Looking forward to the comments!

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