By | December 14, 2009

The Changing Role of Ring Stewards

As Shows Become Bigger And More Complex, There is An
Increasing Need For Training And Experience Among Ring Stewards.

The History of Ring Stewarding: It would be wonderful to write about the noble and ancient position of the ring steward. Unfortunately, no Ring Steward’s Hall of Fame exists, nor is there a “History of Ring Stewards Around the World.” Suffice it to say that ring stewards have probably been around for as long as there have been dog shows, but it seems the details of the job have changed over the years. A bit of research suggests the modern ring steward should be grateful. Fifty years ago it was the practice for ring stewards to travel from the ring to the benching area to locate the dogs to be judged in the next class, along with corralling the handlers, who may have been somewhere else. Additionally, it was the steward’s job to attach the armband to each exhibitor as they entered the ring, then remove all armbands after the class was judged and retain the winners’ armbands for Winner’s judging. Believe it or not, there may actually be a way to trace the origin of the practice of “grab some friends and make them ring stewards for the day.” An article appearing in the July I937 GAZETTE tells the story of one chap who was roped into stewarding in just that way. The story is classic ’30s, with this gent spending a great deal of his time ogling the women ringside and advising his cigarette puffing judge. How times have changed!

We live in a service-oriented society. Most people are pretty self-reliant, but when they spend money for something, they demand that it be right. Like it or not, dog shows fit into this picture, too. Millions of dollars are spent in the sport of breeding and showing dogs. Dog people are intensely occupied with the work involved in producing the very best specimens of their breed. Dog shows tell them whether or not they’ve achieved their goals. However, just like any other area where we spend our money, we have the opportunity to make choices with our dollars. If a show facility is of poor quality, the judges are not the best, the area’s lodging is too expensive or the treatment exhibitors get at shows is less than expected, there’s always a show somewhere else. People vote with their entries on whether a show-giving club has met their expectations. Ring stewarding is fitting more and more into that picture. Felix Cruz, president of the Steward’s Club of America, says, “Good stewards are a must for show-giving clubs. Judges and exhibitors have a right to expect that from a club. Many judges complain frequently that there are not enough qualified stewards.” Reba Rubright is secretary treasurer of the Eastern Pennsylvania Steward’s Club and has been involved with pure bred dogs since the I960s. She served as the chairwoman of the Berks county (Penn.) Kennel Club’s I993 summer show. How important does she think stewards are? “I tell show-giving clubs to remember once that show starts, they turn the whole package of a year or a year-and-a-half’s work over to ring stewards. What goes on the day of the show is in the hands of the superindent, the judges and the ring stewards. Your stewards better know what they’re doing or it will reflect poorly on your club and your show.” Cruz agrees. “Bad stewarding can affect entries. Good judges don’t want to come back to an environment not con-ductive to them performing at their optimum. Neither will entries come to a show that is poorly organized. A club can be fined for mistakes the stewards make”. Dawn Martin, chairwoman of the Poconco Mountain(Penn.) Kennel Club’s fall show, says, “As an exhibitor, I feel that there’s a definite need for trained professional stewards. I’ve encountered unprofessional stewards when showing, and it really rattles you to have a bad experience with an inept steward just before going into the ring”. When looking for people to fill such an important role, it clearly is not the right thing to get I5 or 20 club members who have been on the fringes of the dog-show world and throw them into rings to work with judges. Judges were recently reminded in the AKC’s Judges Newsletter (April I993) that they have a right to ask for a person who is “familiar with judging procedure, breed classifications and rules.”

Bigger Shows, Bigger Needs: Sheryl Cox is with the Oklahoma Ring Steward’s Club. She says, “Shows are increasing in size. Clusters have started in the past few years. Larger shows mean more stewards, and more work.” How much of a problem have large shows become? In some parts of the country entries are exploding, bringing with them unexpected problems. “We expected an entry of around I,000 dogs,” says Martin of the show she chairs. “We were astounded that it went over I,400.” Rubright had a similar experience. “Our entry of over 2,500 dogs was hundreds more than we usually get.” It isn’t unusual to see entries of I,500, 2,500, 3,000 even 5,000 these days. Cruz adds, “Clustering of shows puts a burden on steward’s groups and show-giving clubs. It’s not too hard to get adequate coverage on Saturdays and Sundays, but Thursdays, Fridays and Mondays are another story.” Additionally, there is the complexity of rules regarding dog shows. Last March’s vote by the AKC delegate body to revise the method by which protests may be filed against a dog shifted the responsibility for entertaining that protest to the judge in the ring, giving ring stewards even greater responsibility. As never before, ring stewards are playing an important part in the functioning of dog shows.

Why Steward: Why do people steward? On a hectic day many ring stewards probably wonder about it themselves. However, what you’ll generally find is a real hard-core show enthusiast. Bob Custer is a familiar figure at California dog shows. Typically, he stewards at 30 to 40 shows a year, in addition to showing German Shepherd Dogs and judging. He is well known as the chief ring steward for the Beverly Hills Kennel Club show. “Many people make a sacrifice to steward,” he says. “It’s a desire to be involved that motivates.” Karen Smith and her husband Jack, from Southern California, have been involved with Cairn Terriers for many years with many champions to their credit. Karen Smith admits to stepping into a ring occasionally to steward. She says it gives her a different perspective on dog shows. “Everybody like you, even the judge-when you keep the ring on time.” Pat Kelly of the New Mexico Steward’s Association ex- presses similar thoughts. “People who ring steward enjoy it. It’s a part of the sport where you participate but don’t have to compete. That makes it a different atmosphere that showing.” Marcia Melamed and her husband, Jerry, are well-known in eastern Pennsylvania for their involvement in Borzoi as well as being ring stewards for many years. In fact, her involvement with pure-bred dogs goes back 58 years. She says, “Ring stewarding is as much a part of the sport as showing. My husband and I can do it together, we travel to many shows and we enjoy it.” Indeed, they have trained many stewards, including my wife Helene and me. Dorothy Ashbey spends many hours at shows be- cause her husband, Dave, is a show photographer. “Stewarding is fun. It’s part of the sport,” she says. Sharon Parr is a Labrador Retriever breeder from Long Island, N.Y. She has been active in showing and breeding for more than I2 years. She has another reason for stewarding. “I’d like to become an approved AKC judge,” she says. “A person is required to steward at least five shows before they can apply for approval. This gives them an opportunity to become familiar with ring procedure as well as learn how to handle problems that may come up in the ring. I certainly have gained greater respect for the job ring stewards do !. For some, ring stewarding helps them find a niche that other aspects of the dog show world never afforded them. Fred Skellenger ring stewards an average of 30 shows a year. Before taking up stewarding, he was involved with Samoyeds for I5 years. “I showed, but was not as successful at it as I would like to have been,” he says. “One day an opportunity came up to steward. When I got involved with it, I saw that this was an aspect of dog showing that I enjoyed and did well. As a result, my involvement now in the sport of dogs is entirely in ring stewarding.” Whether it is a means to an end, such as for those who have their sights fixed on becoming judges, or simply that they do it because it’s the part of the sport they enjoy most, ring stewards are a pretty dedicated lot. For most, it’s not just something to do all day at the show.

Too Much to Do: This is just as well, because stewards do far more than simply hand out armbands to exhibitors and ribbons to judges. A steward is responsible for the smooth operation of their ring from before the judging starts until ends. Stewards must deal with nervous exhibitors, watch that placements are marked correctly by the judge (although a steward never writes in the judge’s book), keep the judge on time, make sure no unsafe condition develops in the ring (such as bait in walkways or rumpled mats), call for cleanup when needed, have photographers handy, know when to call the superintendent or AKC rep, watch that their judge has water or other re- freshments available, assemble all the classes, plus hand out those armbands and ribbons. Typi- cally, a steward’s day begins about the time the average exhibitor’s does. That sometimes means getting up at 4 a.m. to travel to a show. Once there, they must wait until 30 minutes before the show starts to receive their ring assignment and ring bag with armbands, ribbons, trophy cards, money awards, catalogs and judge’s books. Those 30 minutes are crucial to having either a good day or a hectic one. Good organization is critical. By this time, several exhibitors may be waiting for armbands, which puts some pressure on. The box below describes all the tasks a steward should see to in that half hour. Making sure everything runs smoothly and on time is a vital part of the steward’s responsibilities throughout the day. In the AKC’s “Rules Apply ing to Dog Shows,” Chapter 18 on stewarding says, “Persons should be selected who are fa miliar with judging procedure, breed classifications and rules. It should be borne in mind that a good steward makes the work of judging easier by relieving the judge of necessary detail; by assembling classes promptly, he will be able to keep the judging program on schedule and eliminate, to a large extent, delays between classes.” One steward couldn’t understand why a particular judge was rushing through his assignment. “The judge seemed bent on setting a new speed record for a normal hour’s assignment of dogs.” Finally the steward checked the judge’s watch. Sure enough, it was almost 15 minutes fast!

Weighty Matters: While watching the clock, handing out armbands, setting out ribbons, marking placements in the steward’s catalog and assembling classes, the steward also has to be ready for emergencies such as a sudden downpour or wind that blows everything off the table. Of course, an experienced steward has their own collection of weights to help prevent this. Mine are heavy-duty machine nuts that weigh about a half pound each; my wife uses flat rocks prospected from our yard. There is a danger in letting these weights wander too far to the judge’s side of the table. Halfway through one day’s judging, I noticed that my machine nuts were disappearing. I mentioned it to the judge, and he admitted with embarrassment that he must have handed them out to exhibitors with their ribbons. We both had a good laugh about the prospect that some- where on a trophy shelf is a ribbon and my machine nut. Clearly, stewarding is not a job to be delegated to a few friends who have nothing else to do that day. “People may think stewards are just part of the furniture at dog shows. Actually, they’re an important part of the sport,” says Don Moss, secretary of the Stewards’Club of Northern California.

Judging the Steward: How do judges feel about capable stewarding? “I require a lot of work from a steward,” says Anne Rogers Clark. “With large classes, efficient stewarding is a must. I depend on a steward to keep my ring organized all through the judging process. That can be a big job when you have a Best of Breed entry of 50, 60 or more dogs. I feel that we need more stewarding organizations and more people willing to recognize that stewarding is a very important part of the sport.” “I tell my stewards, ‘You get them in and I’ll get them out,”‘ says Mildred Bryant. “The ring steward can make or break a judging assignment. Stewards take a lot of routine off a judge’s shoulders. It’s a must for a judge to feel confident in the steward.” Gerda Kennedy agrees. “I pray that I get a good steward in my ring. A good ring steward allows you to do your job without distraction.” For a steward, the greatest compliment they can receive is for a judge to specifically request them. Indeed, many judges say the organization of a show, including the quality of ring stewarding, has an effect on their decision to accept an invitation to judge. With the size and complexity of many shows, it is easy to understand why judges feel this way. The performance of stewards says a lot about a show giving club. “Poor ring stewarding is an annoyance to exhibitors,” says Smith. “A judge has to be organized. It’s a disservice to exhibitors to have poor stewarding.”

Training First: If, after reading all this, you still think you’d like to steward, how can you go about doing it? Says Kennedy, “Don’t try to work with a judge until you’ve received some training. Stew- ard at match shows and work with experienced stewards at breed shows. I really believe local clubs should put someone in charge of a training program to prepare people for stewarding so that they are well trained and confident.” You may try approaching the chief ring steward at a show (they are generally near the superintendent’s table) and inquire about the possibility of working with them in the future. Sometimes the chief steward will be a member of a stewarding club. In other cases, they may be someone who has become deeply involved with this aspect of the sport and have their own group of people who travel with them to shows to steward. In any case, you can obtain an application to join if they belong to a steward’s club, or they can take you into their training program. Another alternative is to volunteer to work for your local club. If you decide to join a steward’s club, there are numerous organizations available. If there is no club in your area, see if you can find an individual who will take on new stewards and train them. Why should you join a club? The foremost reason is the formal training program. A ring steward’s club is a good collection of people who are most interested in this aspect of this sport. As a result, you can be sure there are many who keep themselves up-to-date on the AKC’s rules and regulation and have had many years of experience. You will probably go through an apprentice program before a ring is turned over to you to work alone. Good training, evaluations and mentoring will help you feel confident in the ring. Frequently, show-giving clubs to provide stewards because they recognize there is not enough qualified help in their own area, or that training such help would be difficult. Another benefit of being part of a club is that you often work with the same people. As a result, a camaraderie develops and the friendships you form will last for many years. As show become more complex and larger, as show clusters as the AKC rules and regulations become more stringent, is there a need for more steward’s clubs? According to many in steward’s clubs, the answer is yes. In areas where there are clubs, they are hard- pressed to handle all of the requests for their services.

Clubbing It: “I would like to see more effort at organizing more steward’s clubs and generating interest for stewarding,” says Martin. “Incentives might include reimbursement for steward’s expenses or even some type of compensation.” However, there are some who feel more clubs are not needed. They say placing the responsibility for stewarding in the hands of stewarding clubs means the show-giving club has given an outside organization the authority to run its show. Skellenger, who has been stewarding for more than five years, disagrees. “Some fear that steward’s clubs would begin to control the shows. I don’t see where that could happen because show-giving clubs ultimately have the final say in the kind of stewarding arrangements make.” Still, one thing all agree on is that the day of ring stewards who are untrained and inexperienced is fast approaching its end, if for no other reason than the nature of shows today. Ring stewarding is an activity best reserved for those who are trained to do it. Although Custer disagrees on the need for organized steward’s clubs, he does agree a great deal more training needs to be done. “I don’t allow just anyone to work with my groups when we steward,” he says. “A person needs first to show that they have an active involvement in dog shows. It’s not good to have someone steward once for you and never show up again. I’m interested in having people who will stick with it, learn the job and learn to do it well.” “The key is training,” says Kelly. “Everyone can make mistakes, but there is no need for poor stewarding or people who don’t know what they’re doing when adequate training is given.”

Getting With the Program: Since all steward’s clubs take the training and qualifications of stewards seriously, most have some kind of formal arrangement for training new stewards. Skellenger has put together a comprehensive stewarding class that includes a written training manual and eight hours of instruction. He says, “We need to gain more professionalism in the ranks of stewards. There has to be more effective organizing of stewards’ clubs to provide the training needed. With the increasing size of shows, it’s becoming impossible to handle the demands that are placed on groups of people to steward at shows.” In San Antonio, the Mission City Stewards’ Club has a weekend seminar along with an apprentice arrangement. New stewards are given 12 hours of training and then work with experienced stewards in the ring. The Eastern Pennsylvania Stewards’ Club uses a similar arrangement. New stewards are required to work at three shows in eight months, along with an experienced steward, who writes an evaluation after each assignment. Once they’ve completed the three shows, they are evaluated and voted into membership. Ring stewarding is not for everyone. Some find the pace demanding or have difficulty dealing with nervous or pushy exhibitors. There are many, though, who find this is a very satisfying way to enjoy the sport.

Karl Stearns is a member of the Steward’s Club of America and the Eastern Pennsylvania Stewards Club. He has enjoyed the company of purebred dogs for 20 years, and has been showing for three years.

Before The Show Starts

1. Walk the ring to pick up trash, locate dips and holes, check for loose matting, etc.

2. If needed, check to see that there is a stable examining table and a ramp if required.

3. Set up your table.
a. Put armbands in order according to the judging schedule.
b. Cheek to see that you have enough ribbons and all the rosettes specified in the catalog.
c. Organize trophy cards, money awards, etc.
d. Put out an exhibitor’s catalog, if available (mark it with your ring number so it doesn’t “walk away”).
e. Locate page numbers for breeds in your ring and note them on your judging schedule for quick reference later. (If the superintendent provides you with a steward’s catalog, which has only the breeds in your ring, this is not necessary.)
f. Place the judge’s book on the judge’s side of the table. Be sure you leave adequate space on the table for the judge to work.

4. When the judge arrives, ask the following:
a. Where do you want the table/ramp when in use? When not in use?
b. Do you want the dogs in catalog order?
c. Where do you want the dogs to line up?
d. Do you want the first dog on the table in table breeds, or ined up on the ground first?
e. Do you want absentee armbands put on your book?
f.  Do you want dogs before bitches in the specials class?
g. What is your procedure for late arrivals?
h. What is your procedure for a change of handlers?
i.   When do you want to take photos?

5. Check the judge’s time against your watch.

Points To Remember:

1. Never show or give the appearance of showing the judge your catalog.
2. Never give the impression that you are participating in the judging process.
3. Never mark the judge’s book.
4. Never hand out ribbons or trophies. That is the judge’s job.
5. Never argue with an exhibitor. Most exhibitors problems are due to their own anxiety. You can usually resolve things by being calm yet firm.
6. Always verify the placements in the judge’s book against your own catalog. Do this while the judge is judging the next class. Keep your catalog at least until the show results appear in the AKC’s Award magazine; you may be called upon to verify results if there is a discrepancy.
7. Always keep your catalog to yourself. It is not for exhibitors.to see or borrow
8. Always be aware of your judge’s comfort. Many judges become so preoccupied with what they’re doing that they forget to drink water. This is especially crucial during hot summer shows.
9. Always be aware of what’s taking place in the ring. Don’t get caught up talking with someone outside the ring or even watching the judging and forget to prepare for the next class or to put out the ribbons.
10. Always dress appropriately. Take as your cue the way judges dress.
11. Many stewards have a habit of marking their catalog for each number picked up. This is an unnecessary process that delays exhibitors ftom pickingup armbands. Simply keep all armbands not picked up and mark those exhibitors absent as their class is judged.
12. Always keep up-to-date on the AKC’s “Rules Applying to Dog Shows.” You should know when to call for an AKC rep or the superintendent, and you should be aware of any time AKC rules are being violated.