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Passing the Torch: Can the Next Generation Be Even Greater?

passing the torch


I am one of the millions of Americans who are known as baby boomers. We are the sons and daughters of America’s Greatest Generation, those men and women who grew up during the Great Depression, fought valiantly and won World War II, and are responsible for much of the growth in our country during the twentieth century. These hard-working people not only survived but thrived in an ever-changing world filled with despair, war, and a constant threat of nuclear war during the Cold War.

America’s Greatest Generation was also filled with men and women who would marry, work hard, raise families, and instill in their children a work ethic that showed them that anything was possible through hard work. They preached honesty, integrity, compassion, empathy, and the need to give freely of their time and talents to support their church, their schools, the companies they worked for, and those groups to which they felt attached.

As children, we were taught to respect our elders, teachers, the police and firemen, and anyone in authority. We were also told that if you wanted something, you worked for it. If you were into sports, being on a team was not a given; in many instances you had to “make the team” and, if you did, there was no guarantee of playing time or trophies. Most of us will tell you that it was a great time to be growing up in America. Many of our parents gave of their time as coaches, Boy and Girl Scout leaders, PTA members, and many other social causes. We were taught that it was important to not only take care of our family but also to be a contributor to the communities in which we worked and lived.

Our parents had lived hard lives and brought about great change in our country through hard work and determination. In November of 1960, America elected John F. Kennedy as its new president. The new young president had grown up in a privileged family, but had also served the country in WWII and as a congressman and senator before his election. In his inaugural speech, the young president spoke about the legacy of the American Revolution as well as America’s Greatest generation:

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human right to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

As a member of the next generation I was taught about the importance of service, and in my adult life I would like to think that I and millions of others just like me carried on that tradition throughout our lives.

However, here we are in the twenty-first century and it appears that everywhere you look many of our great institutions are struggling. Our country is in political chaos, and churches, our veterans, and the homeless continue to suffer. Crime is up and, in general, plain old respect for one another seems to be out of fashion.

These changes are also being felt a great deal in our wonderful world of the sport of purebred dogs. Competition in every aspect of the dog world has grown and become a global phenomenon, yet many clubs continue to struggle to survive.

I am sure there are many reasons why this is happening, but let us just talk about a few. As a member of various dog clubs for 50 years, I can tell you that in many clubs those of us baby boomers who have been working for them are getting old and there has been no significant entrance by younger generations to join and get involved.

In some cases, there is a divide between the show and performance worlds. Why is that? Don’t we all care about our dogs and what they can achieve? Having letters before and after a dog’s name is a good thing, and we need to learn to work together for the sport and the future of the purebred dog.

I also believe one of the changes in the long-term is a result of having two shows on the same weekend and the overabundance of the clusters. Back in the 1970s, when you were a member of a club you were expected to give up showing your dogs twice a year for one day so that you could work for your club. Giving up one day of showing on a weekend was not that big of a deal because you would just then go to the show the day before or the day after at the other site. We would work as stewards and assist with parking, selling catalogs, hospitality, clean up, and all of the needed jobs.

When clubs went to multiple shows on the same weekend, members no longer wanted to give up the opportunity to show so close to home as well as having their friends and families come out to see them. As a result, clubs needed to find more workers and had to start “hiring” and paying for ring stewards and the other help needed to put on a show.

This is still a problem for many clubs, as members want to participate in their home shows. At many shows, even the stewarding groups are having a difficult time covering the rings with “paid” help. Stewarding was a great learning tool for many people and was an integral part of the judging approval process. Paying for help, combined with the overall higher costs of facilities and the lower numbers of volunteers, has created financial difficulties for many clubs.

Why is it that many professional handlers, judges, and exhibitors don’t feel the need to belong and work for the clubs that put on the events that they participate in and make their living from? Is it that tough to “donate” your “time” back to the sport that you proclaim to love?

New exhibitors and owner-handlers, do you belong to a club? If you do, are you just a member on a roll or do you actually “work” for your club? If you are one of the older members of a club, are you willing to step aside to teach and help the next generation prepare to keep the club and the sport running, or are you one of those people who just can’t let go of your control?

A great many people in our sport, especially in the younger generations, have a ton to offer clubs. Most are very “tech” proficient and can help clubs in a variety of ways. Promoting clubs through the web as well as on social media are just a couple of the areas where I have seen the younger generation make a difference in my clubs.

Those of us in the older generation need to encourage and recruit newer and younger people into our clubs. We also need to assist them in moving into positions of major influence in our clubs. Training the next generation as show and trial chairs, club officers, ring stewards, and many other positions is essential for our continued success and survival. All leadership positions would be better served if there were assistants who could step in and take over if a situation arises where the leader is not available.

I hear people say that these newer and younger people only want to be on the judge’s selection committees or those positions that do not require a great deal of time. I am sure that in some cases this is true. Yet, at the same time, have they been asked to take on a job? Some people are shy or intimidated by others. They are willing to help but are afraid to volunteer for fear of failure or rejection. It is our responsibility to ask and to encourage them.

To those of you who are from Generation X (1965-1979), Millennials (1980-late 1990s), or Gen Z, I Gen, or more recently, Centennials, I encourage you to accept the torch and become a part of America’s next greatest generation. Giving freely to clubs, groups, and causes that you support is a great way to give back to those things you care about.

There are great examples of success in our dog show world, just as there are those who are struggling to stay afloat. If those of us who have worked hard to build up our sport don’t train others and “Pass the Torch” to the next generation, we are doomed to fail. We all must put aside personal agendas and differences, and learn to work together for the betterment of our breeds and our sport.

It would be great if the next generation turned out to be even greater. It is all up to you. It is never too late to get involved. So, as the Nike slogan says, “Just Do It!” You will be glad you did.