Q&A with Candidates 2023 – 1 of 2

Question 1: Do you have any expertise in finance, technology or any other field(s) that might help your service on the Board?

Cindy Henderson: I am the Chief Commercial Officer running the sales and marketing teams for a clinical research organization.  In this role I have create pricing strategies, budgets for customer contracts and manage the internal budgets for the P&L having to report to executives and our board of directors on a regular basis.  I have extensive experience using excel .  Serving as the current Treasurer of NAFA has also provided me great insight to the finances of the organization.

Dana Nichols:I don’t have any expertise in finance or technology, but I did gain some experience regarding NAFA’s specific finances and technology issues by serving on the NAFA Board for two prior terms.  We would review the financial documents (balance sheets, quarterly & yearly profit and loss statements) at each meeting and compare to previous years.  During my terms we updated the current EJS systems, redesigned the database, and transitioned to the current online election system.  I found our current election provider and worked with them to adapt their system to our unique voting system.

My legal background includes drafting rules, analyzing statutes, and working on committees.  One of the things I love most is working on rules.  I love coming up with just the right language to try to solve an issue without creating lots of other unintended consequences.  That kind of puzzle is right up my alley.  I was chair of the rules committee during my previous terms on the board.  We also worked to train judges and regional directors on rule changes.  I truly believe things should be as fair as possible.  Communication and training go a long way towards fairness for everyone.

Emily Neal: I have worked in non-profit IT and accounts payable/receivable for the last 8 years. I have a master’s degree in public administration with focus on non-profit budgeting and governance.

Jonathan Bescher: I have been involved with the EJS, along with helping out Dave Thomas on the new version of the EJS.  I have been the EJS coordinator for CanAm for many years, and have to reprogram multiple parts every year.  Along with helping out Dave with EJS, I have also been a guinea pig for his heat trackers and APES system.

Being involved in swimming, I have brought in other ideas from another organization on different things that they do.

Paula Johnson: My background is in pubic relations and marketing as well as public speaking. I also have over 20 years experience in managing large teams of people as well as project management. I believe that my skill set in this area would be of great benefit to both the board and NAFA as an organization. Growth of our sport is a priority for me and I feel there are opportunities to market our sport to a large general population through various mediums, including social media.

Jackie Alcott: I have graphic design and photoshop skills, not as an occupation but at the amateur/personal small-business level. I have made logos for bands, t-shirts for friends, and other decals for dog sport equipment.

My previous teaching career was in the special education realm, which was team based. As the head of that team, I developed the leadership skills to coordinate, delegate, etc. and am more than comfortable heading a group or committee. 

Lastly, I am currently retired from teaching and am a stay at home dog mom, leaving me ample time to work on tasks to help NAFA work on maintaining a great organization.

What is your opinion about NAFA events that are partnered with the AKC and ESPN (e.g. the “made for TV” Invitational and the CanAm classes)?

Jonathan Bescher: I think they are great.  I would not offer so much time to help them out.  When the first Invitational was offered this past May, I jumped at the opportunity to help, along with judging the event.  I showed up early to make sure things were setup.  When asked to be on the selection committee for the 2023 Invitational, I immediately said ‘Yes’.  I think what AKC/ESPN have done for the sport may not be seen in the immediate future, but as these events keep being shown, more and more dog pet people will get interested.

As for the CanAm classes, I think it is great.  It allows the best teams in NAFA to showcase their stuff in front of everyone.  I realize that not all the fastest teams are able to make it every year, but they have the opportunity to go.

When you look at how many different sponsors they have gotten since the first CanAm shown, then they wanted the invitational to happen with not a lot of time, shows how many people are watching the events.

Paula Johnson: It is fantastic to see our sport highlighted on a national stage. I do however think that there are ways to build on this opportunity. For example, we need to make sure that we are showcasing not only the fastest teams, but teams that are comprised of dogs that might not be the fastest but are seen more in the general populous. People need to be able to see themselves in the lanes with the type and/or breed of dog they have at home. There are lots of these types of dogs out there in our clubs. Finding ways to ensure that these are also part of what is shown during these broadcasts is important in my opinion. Also, we need to look at how we can advertise how people can get involved in the sport at a grassroots level during these broadcasts. Small interviews with individuals about how they got into the sport for example is one possibility. Highlighting junior handlers, making them a special part of the event is another idea.

Jackie Alcott: I feel NAFA partnering with AKC and ESPN gives our sport more positive exposure and more possibilities for growth. After watching the first invitational that took place in Concord, NC I really enjoyed how they segmented the different parts to really teach people in more detail how the game of flyball is played. I also noticed quite a bit of improvement in ESPN’s production quality with each successive event. I think this shows that they are buying into the sport. Fostering that relationship further should benefit all parties.

Cindy Henderson: I love the partnership with the AKC and ESPN.  This is bringing tremendous exposure to our sport.  I think that this is giving NAFA sponsorship opportunities which provide funds allowing the organization to provide premier events to the competitors while managing expenses as well as being able to invest in future technologies.  I hope to continue working with NAFA, AKC and ESPN on ways to expand the events across North America, showing exciting high quality racing while also highlighting the many breeds that participate in this sport.  I am hopeful we can find a way to showcase more multibreed teams.

Emily Neal: I think partnered events are a wonderful way to spread the word about the sport! I know that I have had several new flyball students who wanted to try it out because they saw it on TV.

I would like to have a more equitable way to choose the “made for TV” invitational. Every year there are Regular and Multibreed regional winners, and I think hosting an AKC/ESPN tournament with those teams could be a great way to get participation from across North America and also eliminate any hints of favoritism. It would also allow people to see all different breeds and speeds of dogs playing, not just the fastest and the dogs bred for flyball. People are more likely to want to start flyball with their pets if they see dog that look like theirs on TV.

Dana Nichols: I believe these types of events are wonderful for promoting our sport.  AKC and ESPN have handled production very professionally.  I was present for the 2022 CanAm production.  I took photographs during finals, so I got an up-close look.  The video and lighting equipment involved was incredible.  There is no way we could replicate such a professional set up.  And their production turnaround time was incredibly quick.  The program aired just a few weeks after the event.  ESPN knows sports and AKC knows dogs.  I think it is a perfect match for us.

The best thing about the partnership is that we can get flyball out into the public.  Hopefully this will generate even more interest in the sport.  I had non-dog friends (I do have a few) contact me and excitedly say they had just seen flyball on TV.  This type of exposure is a great way to get new people involved.

What are the greatest challenges in your Region for playing NAFA Flyball?

Emily Neal: Region 15’s biggest challenge in my eyes is venue space, cost, and equipment. Many Region 15 tournaments are hosted on turf, which is not preferred by many clubs and some don’t even run on it. This limits the clubs who will play on any given tournament weekend, which limits entries and financial viability of tournaments.

Even when we can find venues to have a matted flyball tournament, costs of the rental and/or costs of matting can cause a team to decide not to host. In my 9 years in Region 15, I can think of over a half dozen venues and/or clubs that don’t host anymore.

I believe these factors limit participation. We don’t see clubs from other regions coming to our tournaments, which is very different than our neighbor to the south Region 9. Most R9 tournaments have clubs from other regions, like R15 coming. Very rarely do we see outside of region teams come to R15. While this may not be a “challenge”, per se, it is something I would like to see change. Flyball is a communal sport, that is why we play and love it. Seeing new faces at tournaments is always exciting. I would love to learn what works for other regions to try to apply it to my home region, as well as work with other regions who may be having the same problems to find solutions.

Cindy Henderson: I am from Region 13 (NY and New England states).  I believe one of the greatest challenges we face in our region is how to grow the sport to allow for more club and teams to be playing flyball in the region therefore making hosting tournaments an affordable venture for clubs.  The scarcity of affordable venues for tournaments is a real issue and if we are not able to get enough entries for a tournament then the host clubs risk losing money which puts these tournaments at risk of happening at all.  The region is doing our best to support each to make the tournaments viable however growing the sport with more clubs and teams will be vital to the success going forward.  Getting new people into the sport and helping them come together to form new clubs by providing mentorship and assistance in training and during tournaments are things that several clubs are trying to do in the region. 

Jonathan Bescher: The biggest challenge has been coming out of COVID and limited tournaments.  I am lucky to live in a region where multiple regions can come to, and there are tournaments about every month.  We rarely had limited tournaments, until coming out of COVID.  There were teams/clubs that were left out because of numbers.  Now that those tournaments are starting to become unlimited again, and 2 ring tournaments, those problems are starting to go away.  We also have teams that are entering multibreed teams.

I guess the next challenge is needing some smaller clubs to fill out the schedule.  We have some pretty large clubs, and sometimes having to wait for them because of close races between their teams makes the racing day go slower.  Another thing would be the racing format.  You have the point people, and the I want to race people.  Trying to find a schedule that will get enough heats in to make the point people happy, and not so many races to make the I just want to race people happy is sometimes a challenge.  Luckily, everyone seems to understand and the tournament hosts do their best to accommodate both.

Jackie Alcott: One challenge I notice in the past few years with starting a new club and trying to grow is limited tournaments. Our region is fairly large and can have one or sometimes two tournaments in a month. However, I would say that recently over 75 percent of them are limited draws. These limited draws  resulted in times when my club was unable to play. I understand that larger clubs are affected as well but in different ways. I would love to maybe see clubs pair up and co-host in order to help make more tournaments unlimited.

Dana Nichols: In our region, Region 19 (Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming), the biggest challenge is finding affordable and available venues to host tournaments.  Unlike many regions, we are spread out over a big geographic area.  Tournaments in other regions are 8-16 hours from most of the teams in metro Denver.   This makes our region a bit more isolated than most.  We have several teams willing to host local tournaments.  Colorado’s unpredictable weather makes outdoor tournaments challenging.  Most of our teams prefer to compete indoors on mats.  For many years, we had a local indoor training facility that was big enough to host tournaments.  It was fully matted, centrally located, included all equipment (including full time matting), and was reasonably priced.  The owner lost the facility during COVID and the new facility she was able to rent was not large enough for tournaments.  After COVID, as we started trying to host tournaments again, we ran into facility fees that were much higher than we were used to.  Additionally, clubs now needed mats and equipment to be able to host.  I was able to buy equipment, including mats & an equipment trailer, from a team that dissolved several years ago.  I was able to get the equipment updated and make it available to rent for NAFA tournaments at a nominal cost.  I’ve even offered to haul the trailer.  I wish that had solved everything, but we are still on the hunt for more facility options. 

Paula Johnson: Our region (2) has seen a significant decline in both tournament entries as well as clubs hosting NAFA tournaments. Several clubs have either folded entirely following the pandemic, or now have much smaller numbers and instead of entering 2 or 3 teams are barely able to put together one. There are various reasons that have lead to the current state and no easy solutions. I think it is important to have town halls within our regions on a regular basis, so that people can come together and hear one another’s concerns and, more importantly, ideas for solutions. Open conversation is always better, and often leads to positive change. It is hard to direct inquiries about Flyball when there is limited places for them to learn the sport and to find a team willing to take them on and mentor them. I know our club gets multiple inquiries a month. Having a “try flyball” day is one possibility to bring people out. However, there needs to be a willingness to take on new “green to the sport” people.