The Ring Steward: Just One of the Unsung Heroes

The Ring Steward: Just One of the Unsung Heroes

The Ring Steward: Just One of the Unsung Heroes | No matter the area of interest in which you compete, there is a great group of very special people that makes it all possible. Each event has a club sponsor, an event chair, and numerous volunteers who work hard over many months of preparation to put on the shows, trials, and events that we all enjoy.

I call these hard-working dedicated fanciers and volunteers the unsung heroes of our sport. There are many areas that we could identify and pay homage to, but in this column, I would like to celebrate the ring stewards at our many events.

Excellent ring stewards can—and often do—make all the difference in the world for the successful running of any ring, whether it be conformation, obedience, rally, agility, and so on. These individuals work hard to assist both the judges and the exhibitors with keeping things organized and running smoothly.

Many of us who go back several decades in the sport remember the time when almost all clubs provided their ring stewards from volunteers within the club’s membership or from individuals who might be preparing to apply for approval to judge. Many of these individuals did a fine job but, on occasion, they were not familiar with the rules and procedures needed for success. As the number of clubs and shows grew, the membership inside these clubs would often rather exhibit at their show than work or assist as ring stewards. Back in the day, it was generally accepted that club members did not show at their home shows and used that day or weekend as a time to give back to the sport by working at their own local clubs’ shows and trials.

As the saying goes, times change. In today’s world, with many clubs experiencing declining or aging memberships, it is often a challenge for clubs to cover every need and provide the number of people necessary to put on a show. Many years ago, several groups started cropping up throughout the country to provide “professional” ring stewards to help the clubs meet the need. For many clubs, this has been a great service that has allowed them to continue to operate with a lower number of volunteers.

Although these professional stewards do receive some monetary compensation, most of them are truly wonderful assets to all shows and trials.

Ring stewards do a lot of things that are not noticed or are taken for granted—by both judges and exhibitors alike. The steward is the first person the exhibitor engages with before entering the ring. New exhibitors especially appreciate the cheerful and helpful steward. On occasion, some can be gruffly and can change the experience for the exhibitors and for the judges. These individuals need to be reported to the chief steward or club official so that they can be replaced, if possible. Stewards pass out the armbands and keep a close accounting of who is present, who has or has not picked up their armbands, and any special information that should be double-checked with the judge, like move-ups or class changes.

Usually, the stewards will also pull out the appropriate ribbons and trophies—if provided for each class. This can save the judges a significant amount of time during a full day of judging. They are also a big help when clubs offer NOHS, Bred-By, Veterans, and other special classes. While judging, the judge is not supposed to ask the exhibitor the age of the dog being shown. If the judge needs this information, they are to inquire from the steward about the dog’s actual date of birth as the steward has a copy of the catalog with that information.

There are also times when exhibitors have various issues, from being handicapped to a variety of other issues, that the steward will inform the judge about before the class is judged. Stewards also keep track of the placements and awards of each class and, should a judge’s book be marked incorrectly or accidentally not marked, the steward’s records often help to resolve doubts.

On average, conformation judges are expected to judge between 25-30 dogs per hour. This includes marking their books and handing out the ribbons. The excellent ring steward keeps the ribbons pulled and gets the next class in the ring as quickly as possible to keep the flow running smoothly. Ring stewards are the ones who let the judge know that someone is changing dogs, armbands, etc. They keep it all running on time.

There is nothing more frustrating for judges or stewards than the exhibitor who comes running in at the last minute and doesn’t know the dog’s number and has to hold things up while the steward helps them sort it out. It is also an issue when exhibitors have multiple entries, but do not have anyone there to assist them with managing and changing dogs between classes. Often, neither the judge nor the stewards know what is happening. In some cases, these people run back to their crates to switch dogs and this can take up a lot of valuable time that hurts the other exhibitors as everyone is trying to adhere to a schedule. The schedule is very important and judges face the ire of the field reps if they start to run behind—regardless of the reasons.

Ring stewards pay attention to everything that goes on in the ring and, on occasion, they are the first-line witnesses when poor behavior is shown by exhibitors and judges alike. They also try to assist the judge in any way possible by seeing to it that they have water to hydrate and by calling for the photographer, the superintendent, or the field reps should they be needed for any reason.

Many things go into making a show a success, including good venues, good judges, kind exhibitors, great club members, and many other things. However, when you have good ring stewards, things run on time (with most of them not even being noticed). This group of individuals is just one small part of the many unsung heroes that make our sport great.

Cover Photo by Deb Meetze. Hickories Circuit, Apalachin, NY, August 2019

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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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