When the lights went out in Boston on March 13, there wasn’t much that the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance could do to save its convention. The 127th annual meeting of AAHPERD had to be canceled due to a power outage caused by a transformer fire that left Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood in the dark until March 17.
Unfortunately for AAHPERD, the four days that the power went out were the four days of its 4,500-attendee conference. And its meeting site, the Hynes Convention Center, and meeting hotels, the Sheraton Boston and the Marriott Copley Place, were all in the affected area.
Nearly all of the conference attendees had arrived by Tuesday night when the blackout occurred. On Wednesday morning, AAHPERD leaders, working with city and convention center officials, decided that the convention center was not suitable to open for the conference. The hope was that the power would soon be restored, explained Paula Kun, director of communications at Reston, Va.–based AAHPERD.
“At the time, we didn’t know the severity of the situation,” says Kun. Association officials were hoping the power might be back at noon, when the exhibition hall was set to open, or by 3 p.m. Later, the hope was that the power would be back on for Thursday morning and the convention could pick up there. But that didn’t happen.
Association leaders moved some sessions to the Sheraton, where there was limited power from a backup generator, and Thursday’s general session, in fact, did go on. Keynote speakers Jared Fogle, the spokesman for Subway restaurants, and Shellie Pfohl from President Obama’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, delivered their speeches as planned, says Kun. While there was no audiovisual and just limited lighting, the show went on for the more than 700 people who attended.
But, ultimately, there was not enough power to keep the meeting going. By Thursday morning, with no end to the power outage in sight, association leaders decided to cancel the meeting. Attendees were informed and made arrangements to catch flights home earlier than expected. It was very disappointing for staff and AAHPERD members—physical education and health education teachers, coaches, athletic directors, and professors. “PE teachers are a wonderful group with great attitudes, and they rolled with the punches, but everyone’s very, very disappointed,” says Kun. “They get together once a year for professional development with cutting-edge resources and exhibits and speakers and then you’re not able to have it.” Not only that, she said, but they typically spend their own time and money to attend.
Association leaders are in discussions with vendors about their options related to insurance, reimbursements, and refunds for attendees. One possibility is to offer virtual programming for those who relied on the convention for continuing education credits. The association is also creating a Boston 2012 Moving Forward Task Force and Web site to keep members updated on the latest information about the canceled conference.
Next year, AAHPERD meets in Charlotte, N.C. In 2017, the association comes back to Boston.