I’ve heard so many great things about Oklahoma City’s Summer Classic cluster, held at the Cox Convention Center in June, that I decided to investigate to find out what all the talk is about. It turns out that there is a lot for the clubs to brag about, including several new things to report for this group of shows, according to Bill Price, show chairman for the Mid-Del-Tinker Kennel Club.

The Cox Convention Center offers plenty of room for big rings, wide aisles, large setups for exhibitors and lots of vendors. Photos courtesy Bill Price and the Summer Classic.

A decade ago, the cluster was made up of five clubs, according to Price, but as he says, “those clubs ended up going in different directions, as clubs sometimes do.” The two clubs that stayed together were Mid-Del-Tinker and the Oklahoma City Kennel Club. It was several acts of generosity on the part of both clubs that led to an expansion of the cluster for 2013, a big positive for the circuit.

This year the Summer Classic grows from four all-breed shows to five, and, as usual, includes numerous concurrent specialties as well as an independent specialty of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club of Central Oklahoma. Adding a day was prompted by what can only be called the rescue and revival of the Lawton Dog Fanciers Association. “The biggest shows in Oklahoma are those of the Summer Classic,” Price explains. “All the others, although they’re quality shows, they’ve been small, and we’ve lost quite a few kennel clubs in Oklahoma.” The Lawton club was one that was forced by lower entries to fold. “Lawton dispersed the few thousand dollars in its treasury to charities and was basically being terminated,” he says. Price was the person who approached AKC’s then-director of event operations and talked with him about the dearth of clubs in the state and his ideas for reviving the Lawton club. “Mid-Del-Tinker gave Lawton $5,000, and we allowed them to come in and take two days of our cluster, so we go to five days,” Price says. It was a win-win for everyone.

Groups and Best in Show are judged in a separate arena with plenty of stadium seating for spectators.

Groups and Best in Show are judged in a separate arena with plenty of stadium seating for spectators.

Another significant change for the cluster this year is entirely unintentional. The shows will be held a week earlier than usual, beginning on Wednesday, June 19, 2013, and running through Sunday, instead of the last weekend in June. “Unfortunately when we booked the convention center some eight or nine years ago, our date in 2013 was taken for the square dance championships,” says Price. “We rely on top handlers and top dogs to come to our shows, and now we’re conflicting with the Montana circuit,” he says. It takes fewer dogs to make majors in some breeds in Montana, which could certainly be a draw for some exhibitors, but the show committee hopes the entry will remain what it has been the past few years. And the change is only for this year.

Another innovative plan for this cluster that will be a win-win for the clubs and for exhibitors is that the Miniature American Shepherd Dog Club of the United States will host three Open shows during the cluster, Thursday through Sunday. In the past AKC has not allowed clubs to hold Open shows on the same day as regular conformation point shows, according to Price. “If you’re the person who runs a club, there’s little incentive to hold an Open show,” he explains. “You have to pay a $25 fee to AKC, plus $2.50 per entry, then get a superintendent and a place to hold it. At an Open show, no points are available, so why go to the trouble and expense when a club can just offer a B match instead?” Having Open shows on the same days as their regular shows means the venue and all the equipment are already in place. “All the FSS breeds can show and go further than what they ordinarily can in Miscellaneous,” Price says. In an Open show, each breed will have its own classes, from 4-to-6 Months Puppy through Open classes. Each breed will compete through the Best of Breed level, and then all FSS and Miscellaneous breed winners compete in a Group. Open shows are judged by AKC judges, and winners earn points toward the Certificate of Merit title. “This could save the open show concept,” Price says. “It could be a big, big thing, not only for the clubs, but for the rare breeds too, and the superintendent and AKC also benefit.” Win-win numbers two, three and four.

Showing Their Appreciation
The cluster offers so much for both exhibitors and the public, including obedience and rally, Meet the Breeds, CGC testing, health clinics, the AKC Owner-Handler series and much more. In spite of the vast size of the venue, the temperature is kept in the 70-degree range throughout the circuit to keep dogs and humans comfortable. Onofrio is the superintendent, and instead of the usual rubber runners, the ring surfaces are all covered in the company’s blue carpeting. There’s plenty of room for grooming, nice big rings and spacious aisles, so getting around is never difficult. “You can drive a car through our aisles,” says Price.

The huge hall for grooming at Oklahoma’s Summer Classic leaves plenty of room for large and small vehicles to drive in to unload.

The show committee begins showing its appreciation for exhibitors and vendors the minute they arrive on the premises. “On move-in day, we bring in Furr’s fried chicken, Jersey Mike’s sub sandwiches and pizza,” says Price. “We also bring in big sheet cakes from Ingrid’s,” referring to the local restaurant that, for 35 years, has specialized in German and European cuisine. “All of this is for people coming in for reserved grooming, the vendors and, of course, for our workers,” he says. “We do it for everybody, and although the expense is phenomenal, we do it to show our appreciation.” The clubs also work out some very clever tradeoffs of advertising for products, and they go out of their way to promote local businesses and Oklahoma City itself, so that they’ll be promoted in return.

The clubs bring in teenagers from the local 4H or Future Farmers of America organizations to help with unloading of crates and equipment, and to help exhibitors set up. “We feed and pay them, and we also give money to their organizations,” says Price. “They’re there during the shows to help with cleanup and in any other way they can, and we also use them on move-out day.” Again, a win-win, since both the dog show and the youth organizations benefit.

There is also a lot going on for judges at the Summer Classic. This year the cluster has scheduled seminars for all of the Sporting and Miscellaneous breeds. Parent clubs have been asked to send mentor-breeder presenters, and “hands-on evaluation” with dogs of each breed is planned. Ringside tutoring during breed judging and judges’ breed study materials, as well as breed videos, will be available. A fee of just $100 covers the whole shebang.

An exhibitors’ lounge will feature couches located “for relaxing,” along with coffee and pastries each morning. Chair massages will be available, and the cost is just the tip you choose to leave. This year the cluster is amping up the fun by inviting exhibitors to “cowboy up” at the Summer Classic. The setup that is best decorated in the cowboy or “Western paradise” theme will receive a prize, and over the course of the cluster there will be a western shirt day, a formal day and prizes for the oldest boots, the fanciest boots and the wildest western outfit. A prize will also be awarded for the best-decorated Meet the Breeds booth.

The young people in the sport also get more than their share of attention. “On Thursday we have a hands-on clinic for juniors, where we bring in professional handlers to help them,” Price says. “We want to give them a helping hand to encourage them to be part of the sport.” Pizza and drinks are provided at no charge.

In June 2009 the late Dr. Harry Smith judged Best in Show at the Oklahoma City Kennel Club show at the Summer Classic.

The Future Is Bright
Believe it or not, even more than I’ve mentioned here is in store for everyone who attends the Summer Classic cluster, and the future looks promising for these clubs. “We have new things coming in 2015 and 2016,” Price shares. “There will be a new 300,000-square-foot building that we’ll be contracted to move into. We already have obedience and rally, but we want to bring in agility and flyball. We actually have people waiting to get into our vendor slots, and we always fill out our reserved grooming, so there is a lot we can do with more space. This will give us a brand new building to fill up.”

Club members are aware that working well together is what makes for successful dog shows, and they are committed to keeping the cluster strong. As a cluster sponsor, Purina offers prizes each day, and entry fees for the all-breed shows are kept relatively low by today’s standards. Even the fees for reserved grooming are entirely reasonable.

This year the Summer Classic also supports BART, or Basic Animal Rescue Training, which offers firefighters training courses and equipment for animals. BART is funded through grants, donations and training fees. At this year’s cluster, BART offers a free seminar on Thursday after Best in Show. Janet Olson, D.V.M., the veterinary cardiologist who founded BART in 2004, will talk about keeping breeding lines heart healthy and basic animal rescue training.

If the present is any indication, the Oklahoma City Summer Classic will continue to be one of those clusters fanciers look forward to attending each year. Entries for this year’s shows close on Wednesday, June 5, at www.onofrio.com.