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Talking with Tom Kula, 2012 Cynosport World Games Chair

Deborah Davidson-Harpur and her Rat Terrier, roving reporter Rickie Roo, chat with Tom Kula about... well, all KINDS of things!


Name: Tom Kula

Hometown: Washington, Michigan

Occupation: Solution Architect - Accenture

Years active in agility: 14

Rickie Roo (RR): USDAA Roving Reporter Rickie Roo here live on assignment from cyberspace with an exclusive interview with Tom Kula.

Deborah Davidson Harpur(DDH): Roo, you are not live. You sent an interview to Mr. Kula and he responded in writing. You need to be honest with your readers.

RR: But I'm thinking about it now, so that makes it live!

DDH: Listen to me; I'm your mother I know these things. It is not live, however it is an interview and so you should move on to your questions.

RR: Hi Mr. Kula! I heard you are the head do-dah at the Cynosport World Games again this year. Is that true?


Tom Kula (TK): Well, I am the chairman and ultimately in charge of the event. There are many others, though, that are working very hard to assure we put on the best event we can. Everybody at the USDAA office and many volunteers all have very important roles to play to make Cynosport a success.

RR: How did you get to be the head do-dah? And what exactly does a head do-dah do?

TK: One day in 2009, Ken Tatsch called me to talk about various USDAA topics. Somewhere in the conversation Ken asked if I would consider being co-chairman of the event, with an eye toward becoming chairman if it worked out. I guess Ken thinks it has worked as I have been chairman for the past two years.

Ken and I joked recently that as chairman, I get all the complaints with no responsibility. Seriously, though, being the chairman means reviewing the long list of activities and assuring that someone will complete that task, on time, and within budget. It's not that I have to do all the tasks, but I need to make sure someone is committed to completing them all. That's where the host of others behind the scenes becomes so important. For a show this size (900 dogs this year, six rings, five days, and thousands of runs), the list of responsibilities is enormous. I have been chairman of two- and three-ring events for 13 years, but the amount of planning for Cynosport is far greater. We begin planning for next year's event almost immediately after the current event ends. In January, we start meeting regularly to get organized and begin completing our list of tasks. When the event kicks off, the chairman has to assure things run smoothly, and conflicts or problems get resolved quickly with minimal disruption. My goal is for everyone to have a great time, and leave the event thinking everything must have gone exactly to plan (whether it does or not)!

RR: I've heard you are called the Cynosport Czar. What does that mean?

TK: Haha! I can't remember who first called me that a couple of years ago, but the name as stuck. Basically the Czar is the person who calls the shots. Or at least that's what everyone thinks. Really many of the decisions are a result of discussions and consensus amongst many of the folks behind the scenes. Heather Smith and Andy Hartman are two of the key folks helping me be the Czar.

RR: Have you ever competed or judged in the Cynosport Games? If so, how did you do?

TK: I competed every year from 1999 to 2007 except for 2001. My first Jack Russell Terrier, Chewbacca, did pretty well. He made the Grand Prix finals many years ago in Cleveland. We had a couple of first place finishes: one in Jokers Wild in 2003 and in Time Gamble in 2006. When we entered Veterans at Cynosport, we had several second, third, and fourth place finishes in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. For some reason 2004, second place - the first year in Scottsdale - is one of my fondest memories. A refusal at the seesaw cost us first place but was a tremendous moment. My early team, Beauties and Beasts, had a goal to show people that an all mini Jack Russell Terrier team could make the team finals. We did so every year we competed. Chewbacca was teamed with Scarlett (and owner Alisha Hampton-Escobedo) and Wishbone (and owner Heather Gates-Rusher). They are all on a team today at the Rainbow Bridge. I judged Cynosport in 2008 and 2009 before becoming chairman in 2010.

RR: I heard you have a fondness for terriers. Is that true and if so, will terriers get any special treatment at the Games?

DDH: Excuse me, I need to interrupt here. Roo that is completely inappropriate. You may not ask about special treatment for any breed, type, or size of dog again.

RR: OK. I'll do what Aunt Mary taught me and rephrase my question. Is it true you like terriers, Mr. Kula?

TK: Absolutely! You have not really experienced training a dog until you have tried to train a terrier. Border Collies and Aussies want to please their handlers so much, they will do anything. Terriers on the other hand, well, let's just say they are motivated a bit differently!

RR: Is it true that you have been known to treat your dog after a fabulous run?

TK: I always reward and praise my teammate after our run. I think all the runs are fabulous. They may not be Qs (especially with my current teammate, Han Solo), but I think all our runs are fabulous. We always have a good time, a good laugh, and a treat and hugs and kisses after a run.

RR: Do you ever happen to have extra treats that you need to have dealt with? If so, would you be needing any volunteers for that job?

DDH: Roo, I think you better watch it.

RR: You ruin everything mom. I was just about to get the best job of all time!

DDH: You have the best job. You are a roving reporter. Get back to work.

RR: Do you enjoy agility more as a competitor, a judge, or as a head doo-dah?

TK: Hmm... That is a good question, Rickie Roo. They are all enjoyable. The part I like the most about all those activities is seeing other people and dogs having fun and being successful. Of course being a competitor is the most relaxing, and head doo-dah the most stressful, but seeing other people enjoy themselves and watching the dogs run makes it worthwhile. As chairman, I don't get to see as many runs as I would like, but occasionally I can hide away in a corner and watch.

RR: I've heard you have gone to many different countries to judge. Where have you been?

TK: Oh boy.... I have judged in most parts of the United States, including Puerto Rico. I have also judged in Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada, Guatemala, Bermuda, and China.

RR: Is there a country you'd like to go judge agility that you haven't been to before?

TK: Singapore is on my short list! I would also like to judge an IFCS event in Europe.

RR: Do you think the events run here in the USA are different than those run in other countries?

TK: The US events are much larger, so efficiency is much more important. In most of the other areas (except Japan), the events are smaller and can run at a more relaxed pace. In Japan, the events are quite large and very efficient. In Japan, you never need to ask for additional help or ring crew. When a height change is required, before I can shout out the new height, 10 or 12 people have run onto the field and changed the heights. They also use the new style jumps where you must move the jump cup and the bar. I have heard people complain here in the US that it takes too long, but the folks in Japan have it down to an art form. I think it is part of their culture!

RR: Do you have any cookies in your pocket? If so, may I have one?

DDH: Roo! Stop thinking about yourself. Mr. Kula is here for an interview, not to give you cookies.

RR: But I think it will make him feel good to give me cookies. I'm trying to be a good hostess.

DDH: Rickie Roo, get back to business. Ask him some questions about the Games.

RR: I can't think of any. All I can think about is cookies.

DDH: Well, I will ask a few questions until you can get yourself back together. Mr. Kula, what are some of the things that you believe make the Cynosport World Games a premier event?

TK: If you ever went to a championship event at another venue, the competition is terrific and some of the best dogs and handler teams are there, but if you look around, it doesn't always look so special. One of the subtle things that USDAA has strived for is the look of the event. This is a spectator sport so the payout, decoration, and tidiness of the event is important. We want every photo that someone takes at the event to show the attention to detail that a championship event deserves. Kind of like the difference from a carnival in a shopping mall parking lot and Disneyworld!

DDH: I know there are a lot of jobs that need to be done behind the scenes to make this event a success. What are a few jobs that competitors might not immediately think of?

TK: Here are some of the things that you probably don't think of:

  • Emergency services (EMS) arrangements
  • Ordering golf carts
  • Cross country shipping of equipment
  • International travel assistance
  • Advertising and local press coordination
  • Hiring on-site labor; there are many people required to stage and tear down this event. We arrive the day before and everything you see when you get there happens in 24 hours! Kind of like rock stars! It takes a lot of roadies.

DDH: How long does it take to plan an event like this?

TK: It takes a year of planning. When Cynosport ends this September we will immediately begin working on Cynosport 2013 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

DDH: Why did USDAA choose Commerce City, Colorado as its location this year?

TK: We are attempting to rotate the location of Cynosport around the country to make travel more equitable for competitors from all regions. Denver had a mild climate this time of year and we were excited to find an outdoor location. There is a certain aura that we lost when we moved indoors to Louisville that we think we will regain again as we host an outdoor event.

DDH: How often does USDAA change the location of the Cynosport Games?

TK: Our goal is to move the event every year or two. We may come back to a location after a few years but we hope not to do more than two or three years in a row. This year Denver, next year Tennessee, and in 2014 we will be in.... Oh, I guess I should wait for the official announcement.

RR: I know, I know! I have a new question! Mr. Kula, if you were on a HAM (Human Agility Masters) team with Ken T. [Tatsch] and Andy H. [Hartman], what would your team name be?

DDH: Roo, that doesn't really make sense. There is no such thing as a HAM team.

RR: But if there were, I want to know what his team name would be. It's my interview and I want to know!

DDH: OK Rickie Roo, but if he doesn't want to answer it he doesn't have to.

TK: I think the Three Amigos. The three of us are good friends and work well together so our team name would reflect that.

RR: What do you find to be the best part of the Cynosport Games?

TK: I enjoy seeing everyone arrive. It is great to talk to folks I may not have seen for some time. When they arrive you can see the excitement and anticipation in their eyes. It is that look and excitement that make all the effort to put on this event worthwhile.

RR: Is there anything I forgot to ask you or anything you want to share?

TK: I just want to wish everyone good luck and safe travels to the event. Everyone needs to remember that, ultimately, this is about having fun with your dog, and every run is a winning run regardless of placement.

RR: See you at the Games!

DDH: That was a nice job, Miss Rickie Roo. Did you thank Mr. Kula for his time?

RR: No.

DDH: A good reporter always does that, Roo.

RR: Thank you, Mr. Kula, for your time. I'll see you at the Games!

TK: You are welcome; I look forward to seeing you and your mom there.

Rickie Roo is a four-year-old Rat Terrier who loves her job as a USDAA roving reporter. For this interview, she was joined by her mom, Deborah Davidson Harpur, of Harbor City, California. Deborah has been involved in agility since 1998. Rickie Roo likes killing her stuffed toys, stealing treats, and being as naughty as a terrier can be. Look for them at Cynosport or find either of them on their facebook pages should you want to be interviewed for usdaa.com.

Photos courtesy of Robert Moray.

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