It’s was finals day… Series 5… the final four.
The stage is set with probably one of the closest in score and most story driven finals I have ever been a part of. As someone who loves this spor,t I try to keep the actual game and the stats in mind as I go through each series. That is easy to do if I am sitting in my soccer mom chair with my paper and pencil, just enjoying the day, watching each and every dog run. I would probably be jotting down the score and trying to figure out who is leading with my own paper leader board. But as a producer and director in the production truck, it is a completely different story. Let me tell you a little about what it is like to be at Day 1 setup of the 2016 SRS Crown Championship with a small production team.
First of all the SRS has been so fortunate to have students each year in the crew. Without them we would not be able to bring this sport to the live stream audience. These guys and gals are here to learn. They love getting hands on experience and they are getting it here with out a doubt. They are literally thrown into it. The students are directed primarily by Jeff Woodward, the Technical Director, and their teacher from SAU Tech, Steve Taylor. We all show up at about 6:30 am in the dark and start unloading the production truck and taking orders.
Jeff Woodard, what do I tell you about him? He is the technical director who wears I would bet at least six different hats and I can not even tell you what they are because they are technical, a quality I do not have. So, while he is trying to setup the camera switcher, cameras, the Livestream feed, audio for talent, audio for cameras, nat sound and communications for all of us so we can talk to each other, not to mention teaching the students through all of this as well. I am just trying to stay out of his way. I am also waiting as long as I can before I ask the question, “What is the ETA?” I am sure I have missed many other important things he does but like I said, I am not technical, I just know he gets it done. I, on the other hand, grab Morgan and start to unload my truck. I proceed to build a set with hay bales, making a talent location presentable in case we take the camera that will be placed by them. The on air talent shows up and I prepare them as well as social media talent.
Talent… I brought in Geoff Thompson who has worked on other sports but not this game, so I needed an analyst to help him with this. Chris Akin was perfect for this job and agreed to be at the event. This added a new element to the Livestream this year and I believe it paid off.
Morgan and Kristen, who hails from The Retriever Academy, got things where they needed to be, preparing the t-shirts sales, placing pumpkins, just getting anything I yelled for and that is because they know exactly where it is and anticipate what I am thinking. Once Morgan feels I am all set she takes off for the Pool setup. Most don’t realize we have Dock competition going on as well. There is still our social media talent, Cara Holland, who is on her way from college to take care of all of our sponsors and social viewers. While Grant drives her to Huntsville, she and I are communicating over text while she sets up all the posts that will be made over the next few days. There is so much is happening at the same time it is very overwhelming. I need a breath just thinking about it all again. In some ways, production folks like the fast pace adrenaline factor. Troubleshooting all hiccups to be ready as fast as you can. We are always racing to be ready and in this case ready before the marshal and judges are but 9 out of 10 times they beat us and are waiting on us. It’s a game we play and I am loosing.
The first day is always the hardest, it takes a day for the crew to sort of know where they are going to best fit it and what the setup is, again remember we are using students and teaching them as we setup.
Day one we were really behind on the start, but we started. Now it is time to get a formula on how we can best let the viewer know what is going on with 2 cameras. This is always a challenge for me. It is about four to five dogs in to get the best formula on the camera switch. We added the Jib this year. (the long armed camera – 30ft) Jib Joe is how he is known and what a difference this made. It took me back about 10 years when we used to use the jib. It has a way and angles that are so vital to telling the story in this game, sometimes making you feel like the handler yourself. The only downfall is that it takes about an hour to setup a jib and an hour to disassemble a jib. Not as user friendly as we would like for the retriever game, but what a difference it makes.
So now we are in the groove, switch is good…check! Talent is good…Check! We have an issue with one camera being down but we are so behind we move on past that. Everything seems to be good and then the responses start coming in from the Livestream folks and personal texts.
We need more dogs shots…… I would love to see close ups of the dogs……
My screen is jumpy and it stops and then starts again….
All I can say about this is and I quote, “Sometimes you just can’t please them all”, as much as you try, you just can’t.
Jeff started digging into the problems, we take it down to lower the bandwidth to see if that will help, It does for a while then problems start up again. I never quite understand the technical aspects here, but I know we are constantly working on it. I believe some places are better for the cell towers, but that would be a discussion with Jeff. The good thing is we are recording it all in the truck. We may miss some when the record fills but mostly we have everything backed up and reloaded once back home.
Our plan was to finish 2 series in one day. This is most doable without production, not always the case with production and not the case on this day. We started Series 2 but did not get done due to daylight. Production made the decision to move to Series 3 and set up and be ready for when Series 2 finished. We would be ready for them to come straight over and begin Series 3, the water series.
The water series at Cove Park. I love this spot, it is so beautiful and is one of my favorite spots to shoot in SRS. The test would have the most birds ever. Nine birds, two of which were blinds, pickup a total of eight birds.
We would never get this done today. No way…
Now I am starting to have to rethink the rest of the week. We will have to add Sunday. This will throw off the Super Dock Finals. Add getting rooms for the extra day for Judges, the marshal, and talent.
I will not have talent for Sunday. Geoff is on his way Saturday evening to North Carolina to work for the Carolina Panthers. Chris was also going home on Saturday. UGH…
Oh well, we will just not have talent for the final series. Nothing I can do at this point, so accept it and move on… This is what I try to tell myself for a few hours and it finally sinks in. So we get through Series 3, Huntsville Sports Commission graciously hires Security that night so we don’t have to strike the set and set back up, we can just adjust first thing in the am and start Series 3 again pretty quickly. We do just that and all is grand. Now, back to the game itself, putting my game hat on. We cut from 32 to 24 after series 2. Wow, I had actually forgot about that being so wrapped up in production. Series 3 is over and now we cut to 12. Who made the cut? Who is actually leading this deal. I have watched every dog run but really not paying attention to score only shots. It was when seeing all the posts later that night after the handlers dinner,“Where are the scores posted?” “Who is leading?”
Oh man, most don’t realize that we are out in the field, striking the sets, and tearing down to try to make it on time to the Handlers Dinner. I will try to do better on this next time. So after the dinner and seeing the messages I go and sort the scores and get them posted up. It is this time that I actually see the scores and who is leading. General, the nine year old handled by Lyle Steinman is in the lead by 22 points going into Series 4. Dude is in 2nd with Stephen Durrence. For the last few years it is Lyle and Stephen 1 and 2 in the finals. Stephen and Dude won in 2014, Lyle and Indy in 2015, with General in 3rd place. I wondered if they will make it to the final four series again…
A few weeks ago, prior to this event I called both Stephen and Lyle about their teammates, General and Dude. I had heard that it was possible that one or both of these dogs may not be running. General had an Achilles tendon injury and Dude, well Dude is 10, still loves it but age is getting the best of him to push through a 5 series battle. I didn’t know until a few days before if they would be running but saw their names on the registration.
So here were are, Series 4. All problems resolved from the added extra day. We have a 2-hour disassemble and reassemble jib packed in 5-inch mud from the water series, but for the most part it was a easy move. The test was a big, long and tight field series. We were in a groove pretty quick, coverage was pretty easy and we have 12 dogs to cover. As the series progressed, we were getting to the final four. General with a 22 point lead going in, stepped up to the plate, or the mat in dog game terms, and started his run. General was tired and hurting by looking at him. The Achilles injury was starting to take its toll and the wheels just came off…. Lyle and General struggled to get it done and got 72 faults on this series giving them 100 total faults. It kept them in the game but literally by a half of a whistle with Colby Williams and River right on their tail at 101 faults. It was extremely tight. The final four scores laid out where any one of these teams could win.
Stephen Durrrence – Dude 78
Clark Kennington – Trigger 96
Lyle Steinman – General 100
The judges set up land instead of water on Sunday morning, due to time. It was a quint from left to right and a running water blind. Easy setup and easy to cover for production. We were ready on time. I wanted to do this a little different because we had no talent and because I want to master for Internet TV, so as part of the test so to speak, the handler would come to the hay bale set and I would interview them in a Q & A style, myself being off camera. I would then have social media talent, Cara Holland, ask them on camera their strategy and who they are worried about in the final series, they would then proceed to the line or chair in the field and run the test.
Series 5… the final four. They stage is set with probably one of the closest in score and most story driven finals I have ever been a part of, Stephen and Dude are in first with 78, Tommy Harp and Drake with a 86, Clark Kennington and Trigger with a 96, and Lyle and General with a score of 100 and currently in 4th. This will put Lyle and General first to run.
Lyle comes to the hay bale and sits. I ask him, “Lyle, tell me about yourself and then about General”. Lyle proceeds to tell me about himself then about General , but what stands out the most to me is when he tells me General has been the bridesmaid, never the bride, (in common terms). “Always right there… he deserves the win. It‘s really his last chance”. On the other hand Lyle also mentions the fact that all of these final 4 can win this series. They are all extremely talented athletes, it’s anyone game.
Lyle and General walk to the line, load 3 shells and on the second or third bird out they get a “No Bird” . The judges give Lyle and General all the time they need to reset. They come back to the line, load 3 shells, shoot 3, load 3 more and shoot 3. We proceed to watch General clean up all the marks with little fault.
Now remember I am also switching cameras and it’s the first dog to run, so we are trying to get a groove in the truck., and its when Lyle runs the blind that I say to Jib Joe, “ Camera 1, Lyle is doing good here, he will react so make sure you have him in the your frame…. Cam 2, you too, have head to toe handler in your shot. And it wasn’t 3 seconds, General picked up the blind and Lyle shouts out with arms up. He knows he is right back in this game. We all start to get into the game in the truck, it may have been because we didn’t have talent talking and it was so silent and still that we could feel the energy in the air.
Clark Kennington and Trigger walk to the hay bail and sit. I ask the same question, “Tell me about yourself and Trigger”. Clark talked so highly of the other dogs and how each of them deserves to win. Trigger was the youngest dog and has had a remarkable run each year for seven years, he can do this but he still has time. Clark and Trigger go to the line. They had some trouble on a couple of the marks and has more than enough whistles, we know he has put himself up in faults. In the final Series scores are not revealed until all have run. So really we don’t know how the judges are scoring.
Up next it is Tommy Harp and Drake. Drake is eight years, almost nine years old. Tommy and Drake are the only amateurs in the Final Four and Tommy is so happy to be here. Tommy cannot say enough about just being glad to be here with Drake on a beautiful day. Drake is like an extension of him, he is always with him no matter what. His true companion and friend and just proud to be in the company of General, Dude and Trigger. Tommy and Drake go to the line and too have some problems on a couple of the marks. A little better than Trigger but still don’t know how they are going to be placed.
Last but not least, Stephen and Dude walk up to the hay bail and sit.
Now the whole reason I decided to type this all up was because of this very moment. Earlier this week I found out that this will more than likely be Dude’s last run at a SRS, he may run some test for fun, but this would be his last big show. I knew in my heart that this would be hard for Stephen. I also knew I needed to get some last thoughts from Stephen. I have been interviewing different competitors or guests in different sports or shows for 20 years. This would be the first time I got stuck.
“Stephen, tell me about yourself and Dude”. Stephen tells about himself, and proceeds to give us all of Dude’s accolades. I then asked him “ I know that this is the last run for you and Dude, tell me what is going through your mind right now.”
It was compete silence; you could have heard a pin drop and Stephen could not talk. I knew that it was an emotional feeling for him, and at this point in my job I usually react quickly and get the guest out of the situation by coming up with another question or comment to change the atmosphere. But I couldn’t. It was the first time ever I could not rescue. I just froze. It was a silence for about 15 seconds. It felt like a minute, actually I need to go back and re watch this and really see how long. Stephen proceeded to give Dude some water from his bottle, which seem to ease the tension or tears, but he was emotional and proceeded to talk about how he felt. Again, I then usually try to get the guy on camera back into an even state of mind and again I could not, I only reacted not as an interviewer, but as a audience member and I said to him, “Well it has been our pleasure watching you and Dude at the line, you have given all of us so much pleasure over the years and we wish Dude all the good luck in his retirement and we wish you both good luck in your last run here.”
I proceeded to the truck where everyone was teary eyed….
Still very quiet in the truck and in the gallery even, this team walks to the line… Stephen loads three shells, shoots three, No Bird….. from the judges. I couldn’t see what happened but it apparently was seagulls or some birds flying through the throw. Stephen and Dude walk away and come back. Reset. Loaded three, shoot three… NO BIRD… I am about to sink in the truck and I’m sure Stephen is… Bird throw is caught in the tree. Judges give him all the time he needs. They walk into the woods, it seems like three minutes or so.
In the truck we are looking at the scores and trying to build a score board, and don’t know the scores yet. I’m thinking Trigger is last, Tommy is probably in 3rd , then Lyle but its really anybody’s win you just do not know.
Stephen and Dude walk back up to the line and I promise you it is so still and quiet… loads three, shoots three… loads three more, shoots three…. Dude is released. Dude picks up all the marks clean and I think everyone is holding their breath. He sets him up in the blind and it is the last blind and the last run for Dude at Super Retriever Series. “Back….” Stephen says in a loud voice. We watch this dog in his own pace just run straight. I thought he was going to line it. He’s gets to the running water and Stephen handles him 2 to 3 times as he is about to approach the bird. Dude picks up the bird and heads back to Stephen. We all breath. Its almost like you could hear everyone breath. It was a bittersweet feeling. We all watched as a viewer as Stephen went to his knees to meet Dude who delivered to hand. It was a touching moment. I think that most know they had won but until Judges announce you didn’t really know.
Judges tallied scores and as we all thought Stephen Durrence and Dude became the 2016 Super Retriever Series Crown Champion with 84 faults. Lyle Steinman and General would place 2nd with 114 , Tommy Harp and Drake placed 3rd with a score of 145 and Clark Kennington and Trigger 4th with 159.
It’s any given Sunday in this game, in better terms. It’s a sport with so many variables and one of the hardest sports to cover and teach the uneducated audience. It’s a sport that has its ups and downs. A sport only the handler really knows what his teammate is made of, what he or she is possibly trying to tell him during their run. It’s a game we love and I think its because we love the athlete…the retriever.
That’s a wrap, time to strike the set and move to the Super Dock.