Dog Show | For The Love Of The Game: Part 2

Dog Show | For The Love Of The Game: Part 2

Dog Show – For The Love Of The Game: Part 2 | Last month, in coordination with the Winter Olympic Games, I talked about the history of sports and how a person’s love of the game is the main reason people continue to compete for as long as possible. This month I would like to go a step further and discuss those individuals who continue their love for the sport by becoming certified officials for those activities.

In any form of competition, there will always be someone (or some group of individuals) who acts as judge, umpire, referee, or another form of adjudicator for a specific event. These individuals in all types of competition can, in general, range from the average volunteer up to the career professional.

Those who choose to become officials may have had many years of participation in the sport or event. There is also that very small group of individuals with a desire to officiate at the major league level as a full-time career.

For those who officiate, the levels of achievement and income can vary a great deal between various sports and levels of competition.

All forms of sports and most competitions have written rules, regulations, codes of conduct, and ethics that the officials must follow. Furthermore, in many sports, the officials may have to pass some form of physical and mental testing in order to be able to perform their duties.

Many people officiating do so as a part-time job, as most officials do receive some form of compensation for their time, knowledge, and service. Others officiate as volunteers, mostly as a hobby, while some will try to make a professional career out of their chosen sport.

All major sports have a variety of levels of competition. Likewise, each level has a set of officials who meet the needs and requirements for that level.

Let’s take a look at how various sports leagues compensate and advance their officials, as well as the timeframes and numbers for those who achieve the top-tier in their chosen sport.

STARTING AND ADVANCING

For many, officiating in most major sports becomes serious after having served local organizations in a volunteer capacity before deciding to move forward.

In general, high school sports are the lowest entry-level in most states. Often, it is overseen by the NFHS or National Federation of State High School Associations. Most with serious aspirations begin at this level.

Moving up the ladder, college sports is the natural next level. College sports have numerous levels and divisions, with the highest being the NCAA divisions. The NJCAA or National Junior College Athletic Association and the other college governing body, the NAIA or National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, have training and testing programs that are required of the individuals they recognize to officiate in the various sports they oversee.

Along with initial certification, those who continue to officiate are usually required to complete some type of annual or periodic recertification to confirm their knowledge of the current rules and procedures that are in place.

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

In baseball, “America’s Game” probably has more levels of competition and leagues than any other sport.

In 2020, there were only 76 individuals who served as umpires at the top level in baseball’s Major League (MLB). These 76 people draw an annual salary of between approximately $110,000 and $500,000 per season, based on their performance, seniority, number of games, and other considerations. They all must have certified 20/20 vision. They must be athletic, in good health, and possess great communication skills. They must also be highly principled people and will have graduated from the MLB Umpire Training Academy, which takes several weeks and costs about $2,500
to attend.

There are thousands of individuals who aspire to be an umpire in MLB, but the road is long and there are many steps along the way. The youngest person to ever achieve the MLB level was Lance Barrett who, at 29 years old, made it after serving only seven years in the Minor League system.

In baseball, the system starts back in T-Ball and Little League, where umpires may be volunteers or those who draw a payment of between $15-$50 per game. Some also do various men’s, women’s, and co-ed leagues of varying levels at similar rates. The next step is high school, where an umpire will earn $50 and up for each game. Those reaching the college level usually receive a fee of $100 and up per game.

But for those who aspire to make the “big leagues,” the journey starts in the rookie and short-season leagues. The next step is Long Season A Ball, Advanced A-League, and Double-A, with the last stop being AAA. Before moving on to the “big dance,” they may get a tryout in MLB Spring Training leagues, the World Baseball Classic, or the Arizona or Southern Leagues.

MLB employs a rather large Major League Baseball umpire development staff. The staff scouts all the various leagues and evaluates the officials in those leagues. Based on the evaluations of the scouts, individuals are recommended for promotion to the next level based on their knowledge and performance in actual games. Progressing through the system is slow. Those who are fortunate enough to meet the criteria and advance are a very small number. For the 76 who made it to the MLB dance in 2020, the journey has usually taken about 10 years.

Baseball is also the sport with the longest season and the most games per year at the Major League level.

THE NFL

In the National Football League (NFL), an officiating crew is made up of seven people. These crew members typically officiate the now 17-game season. The average salary for NFL officials is between $200,000 and $250,000, and there is extra compensation for pre-season and playoff games.

There are just over 100 certified officials in the NFL. These include umpires, referees, and head linesmen. As with MLB, officials must attend training and have a minimum of 10 years prior experience at the lower levels of competition. They must also be in excellent physical condition and provide full records of their past officiating experience.

The NFL also has a group of 65 people who make up the officiating scouting team that searches all levels to seek out those with the most potential to meet their needs.

In the United States, there are about 4,000 individuals who are recognized officials at various levels for football. They start at the youth level, where an official may earn about $10 per game, and proceed to the high school officials who earn between $45-$100 per game. The NCAA level is considered the top level below the NFL, and these leagues have their own different staffs, requirements, and regulations along with financial considerations for their on-field as well as off-field officials.

THE NBA

Making it to the National Basketball Association (NBA) is a very similar process to the previously mentioned leagues. Starting with various club leagues before advancing to high school and on to college is the usual course of progress. Officials must sit for the NCAA exams when they get to that level. The fast pace of basketball further stresses the need for individual physical and mental fitness. The usual minimum requirement to call lower-tier games is 6-10 years of game experience.

Entry-level NBA officials earn about $600 per game and have an 82-game season. The average pay for a proven official can reach $550,000 per season in the NBA.

OTHER LEAGUES

When looking at all spectator sports in the United States, there are about 15,000 to 16,000 people tasked with being umpires, referees or other officials. In the five major sports (baseball, soccer, football, basketball, and ice hockey), the average annual salary for officials was $27,000 in 2010, with a few states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York reporting a higher average of $42,000 to $60,000 per year.

While researching this information, it was noted that each sport and most leagues have a code of conduct and accountability within their system. Any official can be fined, suspended, reprimanded or dismissed for violations.

When looking at all spectator sports in the United States, there are about 15,000 to 16,000 people tasked with being umpires, referees or other officials.

THE SEASON

One of the major differences between our sport of purebred dogs and most other sports is the length of a season. All major sports have a season defined by a specific number of games, and a defined post-season, before crowning a champion. Baseball, with a 162-game regular season, is the longest and usually starts in February with spring training and ends with the World Series in October.

On the other hand, in our sport, there are 51 weekends a year where dog shows are taking place. Depending upon your level of interest, the ability (both physically and financially) could require participants to compete, on average, 4-5 days per week at various shows and circuits throughout the country. This means that a particular dog could possibly be shown between 200-250 times in a year.

In our sport, we have a variety of rankings to mark the achievements of various exhibits. However, unlike other sports, there are no defined markers as to the number of shows attended, etc., to give an accurate marker as to a true level of achievement on a level field.

‘POLITICS’ AND ‘CONFLICTS OF INTEREST’

In our sport of dogs, we often hear about the “politics” and “conflicts of interest” between judges and exhibitors. I would like to point out that at every level of sports (but especially at the major league level), the officials are very well-acquainted with most of the players and coaches. Most know each other both socially and professionally. If you watch sports on television, you often see interactions between the officials, players, and coaches. These interactions do not seem to affect the officials’ ability to do their jobs. On those rare occasions when there are problems, it is usually not about the individual interactions. Rather, it is about missed calls or misinterpretation of the rules.

Also, in all sports, the official does not have a great deal of time to make a call. They make human, split-second decisions. In many cases, these split-second calls can have a great impact on the outcome of the contest.

Most major league sports have video replays that scrutinize every call. This puts the officials under a constant microscope while trying to do their jobs at the highest level in an already fast-paced environment.

SCOUTING AND ADVANCING OFFICIALS

One of the constant similarities between the major leagues and some of the lower leagues is that all have scouting groups that are in place to observe the officials and make recommendations for their advancement. Simply graduating from the various training academies and performing at lower levels is no guarantee of further advancement. All scouting groups are made up of a large number of people who share and compare notes and evaluations of those who are up for advancement. Those who have the opportunity to advance have been evaluated by numerous experts on not only their knowledge, but also on their actual application of the rules and performance in the field of play.

MAJOR LEAGUE-CALIBER DOG SHOW JUDGES

What would you consider to be the qualities of a major league-caliber dog show judge? If we were to follow the process of most major sports, how would we stack up in the advancement of our judges? My point here is that when a person decides to move up to the position of judge, they usually start with their initial breed. I would equate this with starting in the little leagues. This would be “step one,” if the new judge performs satisfactorily in not only breed knowledge but also in ring procedure and time management.

Those who can sort through and consistently find the best examples of the breed should be considered for advancement. This does not mean, however, that they go from 0-60 miles per hour on their next application by granting them multiple breeds.

Likewise, no matter how well-qualified a person is on paper or their background in dogs, it does not always translate into someone who has the “eye” and the capacity to sort through and make the right decisions. Every person who decides to judge needs to “prove themselves” before advancement.

I would consider a judge who reaches the Group and Best in Show level as a comparison to the major league officials. If you have been keeping track of the advancement procedures of the major sports, the average time to hit the top is around 7-10 years.

For me, achieving one Group would be like a high school official. Two groups would be college or top-tier level leagues, and three or more Groups would be at the major league level.

When many of us who have been judging for over 30 years got started, we knew that the process would take, in many cases, five years or more to achieve our first Group. I think that, although slow, the process gave the exhibitors judges who were more knowledgeable and better prepared.

What would you consider to be the qualities of a major league-caliber dog show judge?

COMPENSATION

Just like in the sports world, compensation is part of the dog show judge’s equation. People with one Breed up to one Group should be compensated accordingly. Those with full Groups may be compensated at a slightly higher level, and some of these individuals will earn more than others. This is only fair. Judges spend a lot of time, effort, and money to earn the right to judge the various Breeds for which they are approved. However, accumulating Breeds and Groups simply to enhance yourself in being marketable to larger clusters is a disservice to the sport and to the exhibitors.

As with all sports, the number of individuals who are elite and reach the top of the profession is small. We all know the judge’s approval system is not—and has never been—fair or based on merit or ability alone. However, it is time to stop advancing those who do the breeds harm, and also recognize those who do a very good job by advancing them accordingly.

Learning the nuances of each breed is a challenge, and applying those nuances to the entry in front of a judge at any given show is a difficult task. Most of us who judge, and come from the “old ways,” have learned this. We still review and study our Standards before every show. Meanwhile, many of today’s judges seem to be on what I will call a “generic journey” based on general knowledge, showmanship, advertising, and other outside interests such as gathering more assignments.

Learning the nuances of each breed is a challenge, and applying those nuances to the entry in front of a judge at any given show is a difficult task.

SOLICITING

Many of the older judges were NEVER permitted to solicit assignments. This meant that you earned your assignments by word-of-mouth from those show chairs and exhibitors who let people know you were doing a good job. That was how you completed your provisionals and how you progressed. Just like the tortoise and the hare, it was “slow and steady wins the race.”

People now solicit openly on the Internet and in other ways—and the results are not always good, as the cry of “poor judges” is louder than ever.

I, like most of my fellow judges, truly love and enjoy the task of judging and evaluating the breeding animals brought to me for consideration. I know, however, that I may not always get the correct outcome in the opinion of others, as any official may, on occasion, make a bad call or miss an obvious one. This is the humanity in all of us. But in those instances, it is not for lack of being prepared or studying the breed. Training and study only take you part of the way through the journey. It is the in-the-ring journey that helps you to improve your knowledge and skill in each particular breed as you advance through the system, just like moving up the ranks in the various sports leagues.

THE LOVE OF THE GAME

As in sports of all kinds, many purebred dog enthusiasts love the game and the opportunity to officiate at various levels. Some, however, should stay in their comfort zone, as they do a good job there but can’t achieve the same level of competency at the next level. That’s okay. Not everyone deserves to be advanced for a variety of reasons, although this is not saying that as time goes on they won’t be ready sometime in the future. We all learn and absorb information differently; some can grasp it and apply it faster than others, and these people should advance. The others should be allowed to catch up at a slower pace, if needed.

If you are one of those people who chooses to take the next step into the middle of the ring, there are some things that I would suggest:

1. Grow a THICK SKIN. No matter what you do in the ring, there will always be someone who is not happy.
2. PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE. Study and review your Standards. You will never have every detail memorized, but by reviewing the Standards over and over you will gain a better understanding each time that you judge the breed.
3. LEARN TYPE! Remember, it is type that truly separates one breed from another.
4. YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS. When you step into the ring, you must leave friendships and relationships at the gate, and go in and do your job. Real friends and acquaintances know this and will respect you for it.
5. Judge with CONFIDENCE. If you’ve studied and prepared, judge the dogs and make your decisions. It should not matter who is ranked or who is handling. Just judge the dogs.
6. Be polite and considerate of every exhibitor. This may be their first time or their 10,000th, but they all deserve the same consideration of your time and attention.
7. WALK BEFORE YOU RUN. We would all like to advance to the next level, but don’t be in a hurry. The fancy knows which people are prepared and which people are not.
8. DEVELOP A PATTERN AND PROCEDURE that you are comfortable with while making your decisions—and stick
to it.
9. SMILE AND BE NICE, especially to the novice exhibitor. You may be the difference in their choice to continue exhibiting or to quit and go home for good.
10. Always look and ACT LIKE A PROFESSIONAL. The way you dress and act is being watched by everyone, especially with all the new technology that’s available to record all of your actions.

Always remember that, hopefully, you are here because you love the game. If you find that the love of the game has gone, and it is “just a job,” it’s time to think about giving it up.

The Love of the Game is what it is all about!

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  • Walter Sommerfelt of Lenoir City, TN has been involved in the sport of purebred dogs since acquiring his first Old English Sheepdog in 1972. He is a former professional handler as well as a breeder, and exhibitor of breeds in all seven groups, most notably Vizslas, OES, Pointers, Bearded Collies and Weimaraners. Judging since 1985 he is approved for All Sporting, Working, and Herding breeds and groups, Junior Showmanship and Best in Show and has had the honor of judging on four different continents. Mr. Sommerfelt has judged many of the most prestigious shows in the United States including the herding group at the 2014 Westminster Dog Show in New York City where he has judged on three separate occasions. Mr. Sommerfelt was the founder and chairman for the St. Jude Showcase of Dogs from 1993 until 2009, a unique event showcasing the world of purebred dogs. This special event was the largest collection of various dog events in one location, featuring an AKC all Breed Dog Show, AKC Obedience and Rally Trials, AKC Agility trials, (prior to AKC adding agility NADAC trials ) One of the largest Fly ball tournaments in the U.S.A., Herding and go to ground demonstrations, A main stage featuring performances by Canines from Television and the Movies, Freestyle, Demos by drug and various therapy dogs, A full room of booths for meet the breeds, over 50 AKC judges seminars annually, Lure coursing, A fun Zone for Children, and other dog related fun activities for the general public and their dogs. Over the years the event not only raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the world-renowned St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, but also raised awareness of the many activities for people with their dogs as well establishing a voice for dog people in the Memphis area with regard to legislation. Many aspects of today’s AKC Royal Canin show can be traced back to the St. Jude event. Along with Carol his wife of 36 years they have bred well over 90 AKC Champions including Group, Best in Show and Specialty Winners, dual Champions and multiple performance titled dogs. During the past 40 years Mr. Sommerfelt has been active in a number of dog clubs and is currently the President of the Tennessee Valley Kennel Club. He is recipient of the AKC outstanding Sportsmanship Award and is also a career agent and financial planning specialist with Nationwide Insurance. The Sommerfelts’ have two grown children, both former Junior Handlers and they are still active breeders and exhibitors of the Vizsla breed.

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