September 2016 L3 Anniversaries

This month, we have a special page dedicated to the L3 anniversaries because there were so many of them! This month, 6 judges celebrate their L3 anniversary: Ryan Stapleton, Dan Stephens, Steven Briggs, Sean Catanese, Justin Turner, and Ben McDole.

At Pro Tour Philadelphia in September of 2011, six current judges certified for Level 3. We have gathered some thoughts about each of these judges to show their impact on the judge program and celebrate their 5-year anniversary at L3.

The best L3 named Ryan in the US!

The best L3 named Ryan in the US!

First, Mid-Atlantic US RC, Nicholas Sabin, shared his thoughts about Ryan Stapleton:

“Ryan Stapleton is a pillar of the Mid-Atlantic judge community. For as long as I’ve known him, Ryan has been a positive, knowledgeable, community-minded judge with an unflappably calm demeanor. There isn’t a situation I’ve seen in which Ryan has gotten stressed-out, and that includes Ryan’s L3 interview at Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011, of which I was a part.

From the numerous gatherings that Ryan and his wife, Amy, have hosted at their home to all the judges who have looked to Ryan for guidance and leadership, Ryan’s impact on the growth and development of his community cannot be understated. What’s great about Ryan is that he was doing all of these things before he advanced to Level Three — that’s just the kind of person he is. He believes in bringing people together and having a good time, whether at events or otherwise.

The Mid-Atlantic Region is specially blessed to have somebody who provides such calm, confident, capable work at events, and still finds time to bring us all together to share our common joys. Thank you for all your years of leadership and excellence, Ryan — both those past, and those to come.”

Meg’s husband

Meg’s husband

Second, Central US RC, Steven Briggs, had this to say about Dan Stephens:

“Some call this man the Silver Fox, with his legendary beard and clever wit. Others gravitate toward his passionate Garbage Fire side, or perhaps it’s his willingness to go shirtless in bed on the Internet. Or maybe it’s the fact that his house sits wherever it pleases. Well, whatever story you want to tell your grand-kids about him, Dan Stephens has had a tremendous journey as an L3 in the Judge Program. He was one of the original Regional Coordinators in the full US roll-out of the RC program within the first month of becoming an L3. He led the USA-Central region to over 100% growth in just two years at the helm. Jump ahead a bit more in time, and you’ll find that he was a red-shirt at GP Vegas 2015, served another (albeit brief) stint as RC of the USA-Northwest region, and head judged a number of SCG Opens in his tenure as an L3.

But perhaps the most incredible story of the Silver Fox is not what he has done as a judge, but what he has done while being a judge. He earned a college degree, pursuing his career and his dream. He celebrates his marriage to his wife and perennial professional scorekeeper Meg Stephens continuously; their bond together is both unique and enviable. He works hard, plays hard, keeps humble, and through the years I am so proud to not only call him judge family, but to call him a dear friend that I have leaned on over the years.

Dan, thank you for five incredible years as an L3, and for the many lives you have touched through your leadership and sharing with us your life.”

That judge with the white glasses

That judge with the white glasses

After hearing from him, we now hear about Steven Briggs from North US RC, Rob McKenzie:

“I’ve been following in the wake of Steven Briggs for five years, and I’d love to talk a little about how impressed I’ve always been with him as a leader, mentor, and friend.

Since Steven became L3, he has done a lot of things. Event Manager for Pastimes. Regional Coordinator for the most populated judge region in the world. And he is one of the most prolific L2 certifiers in the history of the judge program. (There are 35 passing L2 exams generated by him in Judge Center.)

Steven Briggs is a relentless cheerleader, full of energy, and constantly pushing people to be better. He also does not have a mode other than “full tilt”. When he stepped into the Midwest RC role, his first email exchange with me contained the following paragraph:

“I will tell you that I would really like to see a new L3 in Minnesota in 2012. Chris and Lems are terrific, but they are also on other projects and activities as well, and with the number of judges and events going on in that area an L3 would be very appropriate to help it continue to grow. The program needs a judge in your region that can focus on being that facilitator, that bedrock of experience and knowledge that can help build others up and develop quality judges that are engaged in the program.”

He had decided he wanted me to be L3, and he wanted to push me to do it. We had interacted in person all of twice, and he just did not want to take “no” for an answer from me about being an L3. I didn’t hit his goal, and made L3 in 2013 instead, based in large part on his support and help. He never stopped trying to get me to be the better person he saw me being. (And still has not stopped!)

Personally, I’ve been the Riker to his Picard, helped him guide a huge region through years of growth, and a huge amount of my leadership experience and desire to keep active and engaged in the judge program comes from energy directly taken from Steven Briggs. He showed me what a Regional Coordinator could and should be, and a huge amount of the success I’ve had in that role so far comes from his encouragement and mentorship.
I know there are hundreds of judges in the Midwest and across the US that can say the same, and I’m excited to see the next five years of excitement and growth having Steven as a leader will bring.”

HJ of our hearts

HJ of our hearts

Next, Program Coordinator Toby Elliott shares his thoughts about fellow PC, Sean Catanese:

“ ’Hello, and welcome to Judgecast. This is Sean Catanese, Level 1 from Sacramento, California’

These words kicked off the first Judgecast. It’s so very Sean; even as a level 1 he was always looking for ways to embrace the community and to share his knowledge. Sure, Riki brought a ton of valuable insight (along with some terrible puns), but Sean was the heart of the program, patiently explaining judging concepts to listeners, asking interview questions and pulling the audience in. He connected the community in ways that hadn’t been tried before, and he was just getting started.

Sean’s an unconventional judge in many ways. He’s not focused on the hard minutiae of the rules or the tiniest detail that might shave a minute of a tournament process. He cares far more for the feelings of the judges and players around him. He’s approachable and always ready to lend a sympathetic ear, and people flock to him as they sense he has their best interests at heart.

A focus on the softer-skill side of judging hasn’t kept Sean from making concrete contribution to the Magic tournament scene, too. He’s been a key player in framing how we think about Unsporting Conduct. He was instrumental in the creation of the Judge Code of Conduct, and put into place the policies and processes for investigating player and judge misbehavior.

Sean was the judge manager for GP Las Vegas in 2014. He rose to the occasion, pulling judges out of thin air as player numbers started to skyrocket. A one-man emailing machine, eventually he’d recruited nearly every judge west of the Mississippi, all willing to come help Sean out. He has that effect on people, and it’s been an honor to work alongside him since the very beginning.”

something something its lit

something something its lit

Finally, we head to the Southeast for the last pair of judges. Bryan Prillaman shares his thoughts about Southeast US RC, Justin Turner:

“Five years already?! When asked to write about Turner’s 5 year anniversary as an L3, my immediate reaction was ‘This has to be a mistake, I just wrote about his 5 year anniversary as a judge!’. Turns out, 19 months can pass pretty quickly, and that’s exactly how long it took for Turner to go from L1 to L3. Turner quickly made a name for himself as a very vocal and very involved judge. He wrote rules articles for; he had an ask-a-judge forum for his local store; he was one of the originators of the Judge Class that caused such an explosion in the judge population in the Tampa area. He brought a measure to fun at events, teaching players and judges how to Dougie between rounds or fusing announcements with jokes and puns and not taking himself too seriously. He challenged other judges to rap battles after hours at GPs. But he also understood the value of ‘Big Boy Time’, where you put aside the jokes and trolls and got work done. In the larger program, he attended multiple GPs and pushed to take on some of the more difficult roles at GPs, and he excelled. His methods were unconventional; he was often considered blunt and often confrontational. He was very ‘passionate’ about policy discussions on IRC. We often used to joke about the frequency that he got banned. He had a reputation for being a bit of a “bad boy” troublemaker, and depending on who you asked it was either completely blown out of proportion, or fully justified. Very few judges have been as polarizing as Justin Turner.

However, you couldn’t deny his passion. Passion for judges, passion for events, passion for the program. It was this passion that attracted so many people to him. He was also very driven. He had his eyes set on L3 from the very beginning. He wanted to be the best, and he was willing to do what it took to get there. That passion, coupled with his drive both in and out of events lead to recommendations from Sheldon Menery and Jason Lemahieu to be tested for L3 just 14 months after he tested for L1.

He tested and passed at the first Modern Pro Tour in September of 2011. Roughly a month after making L3, he was offered the role of Regional Coordinator for the newly formed Southeast Region. Since that time, Turner has been far and above one of the most active and communicative RCs in the program. He spends a massive amount of time talking to judges and working through their situations. He has gained a reputation as a judge of action. If you bring him a problem, he will try to solve it, regardless of if you are in his region or not.

This is how he shows he cares. He listens, and then he acts. Judges feel that they can come to him with any problem, at any time. It is not uncommon for him to be dragging his feet the next day because he had a two hour conversation with a judge two time zones over. He also looks for problems to solve. He has been in, or provided input to, multiple ‘Behind the Scenes’ groups looking at process improvements for the program in general. Conferences, New New World Order, The RC selection process, the JCC. In writing this, I realize that I owe a lot of my drive and involvement in the program to watching Turner, looking at the good he does and saying ‘I want to do that.’

His drive isn’t just limited to outside event work, as if ‘limited’ was the correct phrase. He tries to bring innovations to the major event he attends. More recently he innovated a new method for doing End of Round at GPs that has been adopted by several other judges at US GPs. He talks to TOs about how they can get more value from their judge staff, and how they can provide value back.

Immediately after Turner passed his L3 test, he came up to me all proud and smug. I looked at him and told him, ‘You’re still the same donkey you were yesterday’. It was a friendly poke. I was calling him a donkey and reminding him that becoming L3 didn’t actually change who he was. Now, after 5 years as L3 and RC, I look at what he has accomplished, the good he has done, the personal growth he has gone through as both a judge and a regular person, I can confidently say that he is, now, a completely different donkey.”

Keeps Turner in check

Keeps Turner in check

Now, we hear from Justin Turner about his fellow Florida L3, Ben McDole:

“Seeing Ben McDole hit his 5 year anniversary of L3 fills me with tons of memories. Ben was the L2 who certified me for L1 and was instrumental in the development of many prominent Florida judges like Bryan Prillaman, Matt Williams and CJ Crooks. He has always had an eye and a tact for education as he is a college professor in his non-magic life. While he and I have famously disagreed on many things over the years, I’m proud to call him a friend and a mentor in the program still. He has a way of cutting to the heart of matters and really getting down to what’s important, which is an approach all of us have kind of latched onto and used for our own success in the program. While we’ve all achieved great things, I can definitively say I would not be in the program if not for Ben. He has been there for me and so many others over the years encouraging and educating; he’s the true patriarch of the Florida/Southeast community and our ways of approaching events and communications.

My favorite memory is easily the very first event I worked with Ben where I took my test for L1. I, Matt Williams, Todd Palmer, Michael Fortino and Ben all shared a hotel room about 4 hours south of Tampa to help Jeff Williams run a PTQ. We almost ran out of gas in Matt’s Prius and planned to help get the car along with best wishes and sticks off the road as it is a hybrid and runs on dreams. The hotel itself has a rousing story we’ve all told a thousand times involving me breaking the A/C thermostat (stupid thing kept turning off so I hit it a few times in the dark) and sticking the air on max cold causing the rest of the roommates to wake up sick in a 50 degree hotel room the next morning. The event itself had a wonderful experience of a super angry player receiving a game loss for insufficient randomization and rage quitting the event, then returning with enough pizza to feed the entire tournament. Ben got to deal with how we keep players playing when someone walks in with 30 pizzas and loudly announces they are up for grabs. If you thought a fire drill was bad, I guess this is the next step below that! All in all, I learned a ton at that event and I respected the way Ben not only carried himself as the head judge, but the amount of faith and support he had in his staff. Ben is consistently looking for ways the staff can better engage and improve themselves and the event and that’s something I still envy to this day.

When Ben hit L3, it was the same weekend I did, at PT Philly in 2011. This was the last event with a WOTC sponsored judge dinner at the end complete with included drinks. The restaurant was a martini bar and I remember just sitting there next to Ben commenting how insane it is that we passed while drinking martinis designed after candy. There was certainly magic in the air as we chatted with all these venerable L3s as PEERS whilst sipping vodka through Twizzlers. We left that dinner after making our speeches and wandered in the streets singing 90s R&B songs to passerby. That is my second favorite memory in judging and Ben was instrumental in that one too.

I’m super happy Ben is still engaged with the program and I hope to be writing this blurb again at his 10 year anniversary. Congratulations Ben!”

Congratulations to all six of these excellent Level 3 judges. It was an exciting weekend 5 years ago when they all passed their L3 panels. It is even more exciting to see how much they have all grown and contributed to the judge program during these last five years. Best wishes to you all!

About Ronald

From Seattle, WA
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