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“Young people are the future of our sport. There is no future if we don’t get the youngsters involved in as many aspects as possible,” says Sue Goldberg, member of Somerset Hills Kennel Club and mastermind behind the first AKC Juniors Ring Steward Apprentice Program.

The idea came to Goldberg at a regular Somerset Hills Kennel Club meeting during a discussion for the upcoming show in September. When the chief steward, Deb Savage, got up to talk about soliciting help for the show, Goldberg had a thought about the perfect way to get young people involved, and the apprentice program was born.

The club is having its yearly all-breed show on Saturday, Sept. 9 at North Branch Park in Bridgewater, N.J. At this event, junior handlers ages 13 and older will have the opportunity to work side-by-side in the ring with an experienced ring steward. Participating juniors will learn proper ring procedures, observe top professional and owner handlers and their dogs up close, and interact with AKC judges while helping out in the ring.

The goal of this program, Goldberg says, is “to involve and include as many youngsters as we can. We want to bring in more children, more youngsters, get them excited about the various aspects of the sport.”

Stewarding, she says, is just another of many ways to become involved and contribute to the sport. You don't have to be an exhibitor or handler; you can also be a steward, or help with hospitality, or sell catalogs, or work at the trophy table. Clubs are always looking for volunteers help out at their shows.

What is stewarding?

“A steward's main goal, in a nutshell, is to assist the judge,” says Goldberg.

“They cannot mark the judge's book, but they’re there to make the judging assignment go as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Stewards allow the judge to focus on judging the dogs while the steward takes care of everything else.” Stewards also interface with exhibitors — handing out armbands, calling the class into the ring, advising the judge of any absentees, marking the steward's catalog, organizing the ribbons and trophies, and helping to keep the judge on schedule.

This program, then, will allow junior handlers to get an inside look into a part of the sport they probably don't know much about.

And after all, getting Juniors involved is the way to keep the sport alive. “In addition,” Goldberg says, “Besides being fun, the sport teaches responsibility. These youngsters are responsible for the dogs they are showing both in and out of the ring: training them, grooming them, working with them as a team, and bonding with them. The Juniors Ring Steward Apprentice program requires maturity and responsibility. It teaches young people an air of professionalism and just shows them how wonderful the whole sport of purebred dogs can be.”

The AKC Juniors Ring Steward Apprentice Program will be held during the Somerset Hills Kennel Club Dog Show at North Branch Park in Bridgewater, N.J. on Sept. 9.

To learn more, visit the club's website here or email Deb Savage here.