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Well Done, Old Sport!


Well Done, Old Sport!

Somewhere along the line, I got nominated by the Garden State All Terrier Club to receive the AKC’s Outstanding Sportsmanship award. This came as a bit of a surprise since no one mentioned it beforehand, and I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly good sport. To be honest, I always thought of a “good sport” to be a gracious loser, and while I lose as much as anyone, I’ve never been particularly gracious about it. If I can, I’ll pat the winner on the back or perhaps mutter a “Well done,” but I never get warm and fuzzy as perhaps I should. After all, it’s the sentiment that counts and one can always add a “Congratulations” to the comments in the Facebook post.

So, having won an award I really didn’t want, I somewhat subconsciously avoided any opportunity to actually receive the medallion. Missed a few meetings, ducked out early from shows; you get the drift. Still, through the diligence and persistence of Madame President, I was cornered while stewarding at Montgomery and the “presentation” was duly made. The medallion itself isn’t all that impressive and I broke no teeth testing to see if it was real gold. I’ve got a bunch like it (but with different inscriptions on the back) and if I ever judge the Group at The National Dog Show, I’ll wear them in a row on my tuxedo like foreign royalty. In the meantime, they’re chucked in a drawer somewhere.

Outstanding Sportsmanship
An important message from the Greater Ocala Dog Club posted at its permanent showgrounds in Ocala, FL. It’s a message we can all take home.

Now a couple of weeks later, I was scheduled to judge at Gloucester County Kennel Club in Galloway, New Jersey. This is pretty much the last outdoor show of the year here in the Northeast and many of us try to support the hard work of the club in keeping the show alive. As is the case every year, there was some pretty hairy weather in early October, and although MCKC escaped this year, Gloucester County did not.

Torrential rains soaked the sandy soil of the municipal park that hosts the show and the local authorities mandated that the shows be canceled. This action was taken early in the week and was based not only on the weather forecast for the weekend, but on the then current saturation of the grounds from the heavy rains the week before. The club (and everyone else) had no option but to comply. To say it was a most unpopular decision doesn’t begin to reflect the hue and cry that followed.

Social media was alive with commentary, some of it more than a little abusive, blaming the club, the superintendent, the AKC, and virtually anyone else remotely connected. We all shared the distinction of being losers. Everyone lost money. Everyone lost a chance to gain points or even higher glory. Despite the fact that the club and the superintendent played absolutely no part at all in the cancellation, they were besieged with e-mails, threats, and invective, none of which they deserved. I lost some income and sure didn’t like it, but hey, I got to stay home and play with a litter of puppies.

All of this got me to thinking of the real meaning of sportsmanship, so I looked it up. “Fair and generous behavior or treatment of others, especially in a sports contest,” says the dictionary. Doesn’t say anything about winning or losing. Doesn’t even say anything about competing. Just doing the right thing. There is no definition for Outstanding Sportsmanship, so let’s just go with doing what we ought to do anyway.

Jay Gatsby often referred to Nick Carraway as “Old Sport” (Chapter IV, lines 35-40 if you’re curious) and I confess that I have been labeled occasionally with that same moniker. Never thought much about it. I looked that one up also. “‘Old sport’ implies someone who is respected, likable, and accommodating.” Well, that’s not too bad and, once again, there’s nothing about losing. I’m starting to see a thread here.

Outstanding Sportsmanship
AKC Outstanding Sportsmanship Award “This award honors those individuals who deserve special recognition that have made a difference in the Sport of Purebred Dogs, embody the AKC Code of Sportsmanship, and have been an active and valued member of an AKC Member Club. Medallions are awarded solely at the club’s discretion.”

For its part, AKC has tried to legislate decent manners and ethics into the sport through its “Code of Sportsmanship.” All of us observe the letter of the law, but only a few go above and beyond. Let’s face it, some days you’re the big dog and on others you’re the fire hydrant. Whether it’s a dog show, breeding, hunting, performance sports, or virtually anything else in life, we’re all going to lose a few. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to respect the sport and yourself by graciously accepting that which you can’t change. I sometimes find that difficult, but I try.

Earlier this fall I judged in Korea. I had a beautiful Chow exhibited and he reminded me greatly of a dog that I had rewarded years ago with a Best in Show. That dog is etched in my memory as my ideal. This dog placed a very close second in the Group to a magnificent Bichon. Later, the owner asked for a picture and told me it was the same dog I had rewarded so many years ago. The owner was not unhappy with his placement, but had the photo taken with the Best of Breed award, along with his family. He told me that he had been waiting for my return to Asia for the dog’s retirement and final show photo. He was not the least bit unhappy with the outcome. That, my friends, is outstanding sportsmanship.

Now, contrary to my previous belief that the Outstanding Sportsmanship award went to the biggest loser, sportsmanship permeates almost everything we do. The shows, the sponsors, the clubs, our competitors, everything. It’s not just taking Reserve to the 5-point major but winning it as well that provides an opportunity for sportsmanship. It’s tough to be a gracious winner, but it sure gets you noticed.

Being a judge gives you so many opportunities to display outstanding sportsmanship both on and off the field. Changed assignments, travel delays and difficulties, less than competent stewards, last minute additions of breeds, and the myriad of other difficulties that arise are opportunities to display your natural sportsmanship. You may not get a medal for it, but you’ll earn the admiration of everyone around you.

I don’t mean to preach, although I’m often guilty of that. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned recently. Outstanding sportsmanship is more than being a gracious (and in my case frequent) loser. It’s maintaining the spirit of our sport both in and outside the ring. Keep it in mind, and if I cheer you on with “Well done, old sport,” you’ll know it came from the heart and with a whole lot of respect.