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UKC Coonhound Championship
Mark Threlfall - 2000
The UKC World Coonhound Championship serves as the hallmark by which all other coonhunts are measured.
As this is being written the eyes of the world are focused on the 27th Olympiad being held in Sydney, Australia. It is a coincidence of some note that while the best human athletes in the world vie for honors in the Olympic venues half way around the world, the best canine athletes in the world were showing the coonhound world the stuff they are made of in Columbia City, IN. The Olympics puts political and cultural differences aside in the spirit of competition and brotherhood.
The United Kennel Club World Coonhound Championship is structured so that the absolute best in hunting hounds in the country get their chance to qualify and compete in this world-class event. For the uninitiated, the World is made up of a series of qualifying hunts, called Regional Qualifying Events, or RQEs. The top ten winners of each RQE are eligible to compete in the Zone Semi-finals, hunts held in geographical areas of the country delineated to take in to account the number of clubs in any given area. The top twenty dogs that have hunted a full 240 minutes at each Zone qualifies to compete at the World Championship. All told, over 6,000 hounds compete in the qualifying rounds of the United Kennel Club World Coonhound Championship!
From these ranks emerged the hottest hounds in the country. They traveled from all corners of the country to northern Indiana to compete against the best, to be the best. This is not a night in the woods at your local club. This ain’t no pleasure hunt. This is serious stuff, and the attitudes of the handlers reflect that. The mood is congenial, one of old friends meeting again, sharing a common passion. But there is an underlying tension, one that speaks of the culmination of a year of effort. Training, traveling and sacrifice are the mantras of the serious competition coonhunter.
The nervous energy ratchets up all weekend. By Saturday, it is like a muffled scream. Everyone there knows who is still in it. This is it. The year comes down to one night, maybe one drop. Tonight, reputations and rankings don’t mean squat.
When the final cast headed for the woods, few people left the headquarters building, for the cast was in constant contact with the members of the U.K.C. staff. Each year the U.K.C. staff takes turns accompanying this most important cast of the year to the woods. This year it was Todd Morgan’s turn to witness the action. After each scoring event, Todd would radio Lyndell Price, the Master of Hounds, stationed back at the truck, who would in turn call the field reps who anxiously awaited the updates back at the headquarters. The score changes would then be posted on an overhead projector so that the people back at the building got a veritable play-by-play of the lead changes as they happened in the woods. Every time Geri Hart descended the stairs to post another score a hush would fall over the crowd. Everyone watched as one of the hottest casts in recent memory unfolded.
While the overhead projector reflected the drama of the scores, it could not convey the way the dogs and the handlers handled themselves in the woods. When competition is at its best, the best dogs and best handlers show why they have risen to the top of the sport. Their success is no accident. And without exception, these dogs and the gentlemen that handled them acted as true sportsmen.
In the woods, a new height in sportsmanship was reached. Handlers shook hands with each other after each tree was scored. Handlers asked for their own dogs to be minused when necessary. Todd Morgan has allowed the use of an excerpt from his article found elsewhere in this magazine that says it all:
“There are a few things that should be mentioned about this cast. They are things that are not seen all of the time in our great sport. I would have to say that not only were these dogs world class, but their handlers were, too. Not one minus point was written on the card that the handlers did not ask for. Each handler shined every tree. Those who had the most to gain and those who had the least to gain spotted coons. Every single time a coon was plussed; each person on the cast would congratulate the dog’s handler that treed first and anyone else that had it coming. Not one question was asked and everyone conducted themselves like gentlemen. Every dog had exactly the amount of points it deserved, and no dogs were pitched. This was truly the best cast I have ever had the privilege of watching, not because it was the World Championship cast, but because we had great dogs and great handlers.”
The World is special. It is special in its structure, the quality of the hounds it puts in the woods and in the sense of respect and fair play shown by the handlers. It brings the best together to compete and brings out the best in them all. Thank you, gentlemen. You did us all proud!
Click for Show Coverage: 2000 World Championships
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