A new Kapell System of judging the Senior Individual and Teams championships was approved by the IJA board of directors before the St. Louis festival as a more equitable system of rewarding acts. But in practice in July, the system created a popular outcry as being grossly inequitable.
The Kapell System allows any number of gold, silver and bronze medals to be awarded (including none). Each act competes against a juggling standard instead of against other acts.
But after the judges gave out only one silver and one bronze medal in the Teams Championships, and one silver and three bronzes in the Seniors, scores of disgruntled festival goers signed a petition asking for reconsideration of the whole system, and another petition that asked for a re-evaluation of medals in the Teams, based on the outcome of the Seniors Individuals.
The main points of friction were that the judges did not award a gold medal to Doubble Troubble, the Baltimore-based twins Alex and Nick Karvounis, and that medals should have been awarded to additional teams. Even as producer Steve Salberg placed the silver medal around the Karvounis twins' necks at the end of the evening, the crowd booed and took up the chant, "Gold! Gold! Gold!" The only bronze in the teams went to Clockwork, Jack Kalvan and Rick Rubenstein. Five acts won no medal at all.
The silver in Senior Individuals went to Andrew Head, while Dana Tison, Jason Garfield and Tuey Wilson were awarded bronze medals. Just two acts won no medal. The fact that more medals were awarded to individual acts than teams also seemed unfair to many people, who felt that the team acts were much stronger as a whole than the individuals.
The Kapell System calls on analysis of acts based on "an understood level of excellence and achievement," rather than ranking competitors in an order of finish. It recognizes performance juggling as an art, similar to music, rather than as an athletic event where one individual tries to out-perform others. The system was proposed in the IJA after the Denver festival in 1988 by Dave Finnigan, and studied by this year's board championships committee. Members of the committee which drew up the Kapell rules were Laura Green, championships director, Martin Frost, Benji Hill, Arthur Lewbel and Steven Salberg.
The committee's final recommendation was not approved by the board until late in the spring, too late to notify competitors and the membership before the festival. Many were taken by surprise when they showed up in St. Louis and found the rules had been changed.
Despite the outcry, Green said she felt the system worked in St. Louis. "It has eliminated the problem of trying to select one style of juggling over another - the old apples and oranges problem. I am satisfied that the system works, but I think the judges were cautious because it is was something new. Like any new product, it may still need refinement."
The charge to the judges for awarding a gold medal was strict: "It reflects the finest mix of technical prowess and professional performance marked by perfection of execution, artistic creativity, originality, invention, choreography, personal style and sensitive interpretation. A gold medalist must push the limits of the art form, lifting performance above standard patterns."
The judges were instructed that although multiple gold medals could be awarded, the gold medal shouldn't be diluted and made easy to obtain. They had to make their always-difficult decisions while simultaneously acting as a "supreme court" to interpret the never-before-used laws.
The audience gave Doubble Troubble a standing ovation at the conclusion of their act, which included two-person cigar box work never seen before on the IJA stage and a club passing routine that ended successfully with ten clubs passed. But it required five of the seven judges to vote for gold, and that level was not reached. The judges therefore awarded the silver based on the written criteria: "A fine mix of technical and artistic performance, marked by excellence of execution, artistic creativity, originality, invention, personal style and sensitive interpretation. However, the competitor has suffered from minimum drops, miscues, minor unpolished detailing... or other mistakes."
The bronze medal criteria were written as follows: "To recognize special achievement in technical juggling, artistic interpretation, creativity, to encourage an act that shows great promise or has distinguished itself in some unusual way. The bronze medalist may have suffered from minimal drops... technical problems or other mistakes."
Nevertheless, after the Teams awards some judges had second thoughts. When the judges convened after the subsequent Senior Individuals competition to consider those awards, the question of reconsideration of the Teams awards was raised. It was agreed, though, that a change in the awards would be awkward and bear heavily on future judges. Although it was pointed out that a change would correct a mistaken interpretation of the new rules and that future judges would not be dealing with such significant rule changes, a majority of the judges decided not to correct their Teams decisions. They did, however, change their interpretations of the rules before applying them to the Senior Individuals competitors. As a result, the Senior Individuals field pulled down four medals - twice the number received by the Teams field.
Steve Salberg, producer of Senior Individual and Teams championships and supervisor of the judges and competitors meetings, said changes will be made between now and the Montreal festival. He said, "The championships committee is aware that the gold and bronze award standards have to be refined, but we believe for the most part that the system held up. Next year under the new administrative championships director, Carter Andrews, the award levels will undergo further clarification."
In an open letter in this issue of the magazine, Andrews calls for input about the system as he considers the future of the Kapell System in the IJA.
Contention is nothing new in the IJA championships ring. The competitions have changed radically some years and been refined incrementally in others as the organization searches for a way to compare the merits of different juggling acts. The brouhaha in St. Louis simply shows the search is not yet complete!