2009 Ohio-Penn Federation 500 Race


109 Lofts ----- 1,445 Birds

Submitted by Lee Kohli Winesburg, Ohio Email Lee

The Ohio-Penn Federation was organized in 1992, by a "committee of six" pigeon racing free-thinkers, coming together from seven different combines in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York, to establish a "great race" that promised national recognition for winners, fierce competition, and economies of scale to reduce shipping costs. The original group consisted of Bill Gallik, Harry Boos, Jim Timmons, Jack Welling, Sam Badger, and Jim Hazek. "At the time, our wish was to establish a pre-eminent 500 mile race with bird entry that would exceed 1000 birds, and grow in prominence, as had the New England Open, and other races in Europe", said founding Federation Secretary Harry Boos.

Today, knowing that some clubs cannot peaceably get even five members to agree on a simple seasonal racing schedule, it is testimony to the "committee’s" uncanny ability to find common purpose that this race grew to nearly 200 lofts, with 2500 birds competing, at its peak in 1996. The American Racing Pigeon Union stepped forward in 2003, to donate trophies to the first AU loft in each of the three Federation races.

The Federation currently has seven competing sections, awarding one overall winner, seven section winners, and one champion loft (based on points obtained in the top 50 birds divided by individual entry) for each of three races. Winners are featured in the Racing Pigeon Digest. Funding is raised through a "Winners’ Auction" every November, which serves the dual purpose of being a mini NFL type draft (winners put their winning blood on the stump), making available to all who aspire, the genetics proven effective in tough, eastern-Midwest, long distance racing.

As the sport in Ohio, western Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York State ages, facing diminished participation, the Ohio-Penn Federation races provide renewed hope for those seriously worried about classic, old bird, long distance racing. The Federation today, stands as a symbol to the rest of America’s racing pigeon fraternity as to what can be accomplished when reasonable men with foresight put aside petty differences, and work together for the benefit of the great sport we love.

The Winners

Larry Long, Norton, Ohio



1st Overall 2009, 1st Akron-Buckeye Section

[ 1803 ]

The 19th Ohio-Penn Federation 500 was a hands-down win for Mr. Larry Long, a member of the nationally known GAR Club (GNEO FUTURITY) of Akron. Ohio, beating 1445 birds from 109 lofts, and taking the prestigious event 14 minutes ahead of the next fastest bird, winning First Overall, and First Akron-Buckeye section, in a rare second win of the Fed 500 for Mr. Long. The high strung, two year old check hen that won the race on June 27, 2009, GNEO 1803 AU 09, flew 471 miles, at 1164 ypm, to pipping, 18 day old eggs. A notoriously bad trapper, the wild hen had been wiley old Larry's first bird three times previously, but she would not go in. Her race preparation consisted of 3 races from 100, 150 and 200 miles, "bam, bam, bam". She was then rested for the 500. (In most lofts, "bam, bam, bam" might take on a different meaning for a bad trapper, but in the "1803", Mr. Long saw something promising afoot, and he had enough skill and self-control to wait!)

Larry Long is a trucker, living in Norton, Ohio, flying a group of fifty birds, who a few years ago lost a goodly portion of his team after a fearsome nighttime visit by a marauding raccoon(s). After the pigeon coach's expected ranting and raving, adjustments were calmly made. Breeders became racers, and, so on. Fellow flyers provided sympathy, and he methodically worked his way through it. The pain was only temporary. Larry Long doesn't believe in beating birds down the road, and fortunately for the rest of us, because of work, has some trouble giving the birds as much attention as he would like. The locals say he is unbeatable on the long ones when he has time to get his team prepared. Our champion, Mr. Larry is a 33 year veteran of the sport, and has been nurturing the same family of birds for 30 years, crossing his Joe Tavormina Cadillac Blue family (through Joe Lopez from Rich Dworek) with old line Trentons and Bastins. He is an eye-sign man, preferring a bird with a long wing, a significant step and wide flights. Luckily for the rest of the competitors on this particular race day, Mr. Long couldn't send his best hen because she was late laying! The "1803" was the last hen an instinctive Larry picked up that fateful night to ship! Over the last 5 years, Red Baron Loft has an average percentile ranking of 3.41 (meaning he is regularly in the top 3.5% of the birds) for the Federation 500, making Larry one of the area's best long flyers, and a good place buy stock if long distance blood is what you need. In 2010, the race committee will make sure that this stock is available in the "Winners Draft" auction in November. Champion flyers aren't just in Europe any more. Larry's phone is 330-825-1193, if you can use his counsel.

Heber Nelson, E. Liverpool, Ohio


2nd Overall 2009, 1st Penn-Ohio Section

[ 2017 ]

In the long history of Ohio-Penn Federation racing, never has a modern loft flown like that of Mr. Heber Nelson of East Liverpool, Ohio. This loft has twice been second overall winner in the 500, and in 1999, was the first overall Federation 400 winner; this against an eight year average of over 120 lofts per race. In addition, five times, Heber has won his section, the tough, and big, Penn-Ohio. Over the last eight (8) years, Mr. Nelson has averaged placing his first bird in the stratospheric, 0.83 percentile (better than the top 1%), against an average of 1681 birds per race, the best average percentile ranking in the history of the race. You don't see consistency like this year after year, unless you're looking at a battle-tested champion who is "first among equals"! In addition, he ranks second in the total number of birds placed in the top 1% of the race for the last eight (8) years, at 14 birds, representing 4.49% of his entire entry, the third best in this statistic. This old bird racing achievement is remarkable, (as is his young bird racing record, which includes in 2001, First Overall of the always-hard-to-win GNEO Futurity race.)

Clocking second overall on June 27, in the 2009 Federation 500 against 1445 birds, from a distance of 518 miles, Heber's 2 year old cock, GNEO 2017 AU 07, flew 1143 ypm, clocking at 19:47:32. Interestingly, the blue "2017" was bred by the AU Convention winning breeder Mr. Mark Koenig, from a son of Heber's own famous number "200", the overall winner of the 1999 Federation 400. The "2017" wonder cock was sent to Mr. Nelson as an out of area bird for the 2007 GNEO Race. You've heard it a million times before, and here, we see it again. Buy performance, not paper. And here, you can also see where the great breeders come to get their seed stock! Great begets great. Genetic replication in this loft is not theoretical!

Nelson, for six or seven years, has been a dual widowhood man, but has tried in the past, all sorts of combinations in his search for effectiveness, finally deciding that "nothing beats separation." He likes cocks better, feeds light to heavy, and starts feeding the seeds separately when he gets to the heavy part of the week. After the early barley, Heber likes hemp, kafir corn, safflower and wheat (on the short ones), which he blends with his regular mix. Feed quantity is of no concern when he gets them down the road, meaning they eat all they want. He wants fleshing. He has tried Ganus's 1-2-3 program, but now worries only about canker (every two weeks in season) and respiratory (for 5 days preseason). He's not particularly big on vitamins, and judges himself to be a little laid back regarding motivation (We may thank God for that!), and says those seeing his loft find it to be very ordinary. His most unusual preparation procedure is to train the widowhood team every day from 15 miles, from work (third shift), but which is from the east! He races from the west! The birds are separated when he gets home. "Sometimes you just have to compensate!" What we are describing here, is an American pigeon racing champion, who knows what buttons to push, and who, in the words of Cleveland racing legend, Bobby Krzewinski, "has a regular routine that he changes every day"! Pigeon racing for Heber Nelson is an art form. He senses things the rest of us can't see. He feels things the rest of us can't touch. He's a pigeon racing Picasso.

Nelson flies a family of Busschaerts and Stichelbauts. The Busschaerts were purchased from a local breeder who "believed in free-love", without disadvantage, then sold his birds. Heber reaped the benefits when he crossed those free-loving Busschaerts with his Stichelbaut family. Of course, the rest is history. Nelson's stock can be purchased very reasonably, and has proven to be very popular at auctions. You can reach him for advice at 330-386-5925. He's hard to catch, but nice, and very informative when you do. Long distance racing pigeon specialists don't come any better than Heber Nelson. Seek him out while you can. You beat your competition by studying them, getting their genetics, then out hustling them….if you will! (Not many will!) "There are no silver bullets", according to Mr. Nelson. But, good luck, anyway!

Dr. Paul Benz, Greentree, Pennsylvania


4TH Overall, 1st Pittsburgh Section, 2009 Federation 500

5th Overall, 1st Pittsburgh Section, 2009 Federation 400

Flying with a "lifetime right" from a three story, rooftop location above his former dentist office building, about an hour south of the great Heber Nelson, in the Greentree suburb of Pittsburgh, is retired, 82 year old, long distance racing champion, Dr. Paul Benz. The energetic, octogenarian had just finished delivering "Meals on Wheels" prior to my telephone visit, and gave a generous hour of his time sharing his secrets of long distance racing.

Dr Benz got his pigeon racing start in 1947, and raced until he graduated from Dental School in 1954, coming back to the sport, earnestly, in 1970 ("I kept watching the obituaries, and told myself, if I didn't get back soon, I'd have nothing to come back to."). He saw Pittsburgh racing at its peak in the 1950's. The Pittsburgh Center, with Peter Barry as President, was comprised of 34 clubs, had over 652 lofts competing, shipped two tractor trailers, and had 7000 birds in a race. The metropolitan area had the Southwest Combine club, the South Hills club, the Northside club, the Troy Hill club, the Hazlewood Invitational club, the Mckeesport club, The City View club, the Lawrenceville club, The Washington club, the Garfield club, the Brookline club, the West Mifflin club and the Chartier's Valley club, among many, not remembered. Nearly all are gone now; only West Mifflin, Washington and the Southwest club remain, all three having about twenty flying members, in total! (Don't take your pigeon racing for granted. If it could disappear in Pittsburgh, it can disappear anywhere.)

In 2009 Old Bird Ohio-Penn Federation racing, Dr. Benz scored an unusual double by winning on June 13, fifth (5th) overall, first Pittsburgh section, in the Federation 400, flying 461 miles; then came back two weeks later with a fourth (4th) overall, first Pittsburgh section, flying 544 miles, (having the only Pittsburgh day bird) in the great Federation 500, showing the rest of the 60-somethings in the Pittsburgh Southwest Combine that "the old cock-bird" still has some fight left in him! This was racing against 1445 birds, 109 lofts, and 1615 birds and 133 lofts, respectively. For you accounting types, that gives the good doctor a staggering, two year average of 0.362 percentile (better than the top one-half percent of all birds) in the 500, and a 4 year average of 3.59 percentile in the 400. For comparison purposes, the winner of the 2009 Fed 500 had a percentile ranking of 0.069%, while that of the Fed 400 had a 0.062 percentile rating. This is awesome performance from a driven "senior" that still lowers his own shipping crates from a third story roof with a block and tackle, or can be seen in winter months on an extension ladder carrying gallon jugs of water up to his beloved minions. Dr. Benz sums up the extraordinary effort this way, "The more time I put in, the luckier I get!" (Wow! Take note of that attitude, will you, the downtrodden performers, among us.)

Dr. Benz is your prototype long distance, old bird specialist. He could give or take young bird racing, but thrives on old bird racing, and has a long distance family he has cultivated for fifty years. He refers to them humorously as his "Van Benz" family. He has had them so long he no longer thinks about their origins. What matters is the performance of the family, which he watches closely. Get your pencil, for here are some secrets that may help you if you are looking to beat the old doctor! Young birds are bred late, are never ready early, and are carefully nurtured; only 15 tosses up to 60 miles before the first race, then raced just so lightly, maybe to three races counting the 300. (He likes a late youngster because the long primaries are still intact at futurity time.) The 50 bird old bird team is trained pre-season, only 6 times; 3 twenty miles tosses, followed by 3 fifty mile tosses. Yearlings are rarely raced. Old birds can race up to five years of age, only if they can "keep up" with the active old Doctor! Retired champs are used as droppers, and saved for breeding. The rest are "raptured"! Nobody gets antibiotics, period. Sick birds are also "raptured"! (Remember, he's a Doctor!) The old bird team is loft flown (flagged) twice each day for thirty minutes each time, and as late as possible in the afternoon to increase the birds' mental toughness for "late race day staying power". The entire team is squeezed into the early, short old bird races, giving them time to come into condition on their own, like good salt cured ham. In 2008, his first Fed 400 bird (94th of 1533 overall, 1st Pittsburgh section) had rested for 6 weeks. Two weeks later, his first Fed 500 bird (7th of 1593 overall, 1st Pittsburgh section) had rested for 5 weeks.

Because of space and facility limitations, Dr. Benz flies natural, but was one of the first widowhood flyers (1952) in the Pittsburgh Central Combine (He didn't think he could isolate his widow hens well enough without more construction, and you've got to stop somewhere!). The most trusted motivational tactic for the cagey Dr. Benz is to race a hen sitting for 10 to 17 days that has rested for at least two weeks before the intended long distance race. He really covets hens that sit tight, and he moves eggs around a lot. Experience has also taught him to respect cocks that are sitting a second round of eggs while feeding a big youngster. When feeding for "targeted" long distance events, Dr. Benz starts 14 days earlier to increase the percentage of peas and corn. Ten days before shipping, the birds go on full feed. The seasoned Dr., like champions Long and Nelson, wants good fleshing and almost no appetite on shipping night. "A rested, well fleshed, tight sitting mother that is more interested in nest and mate, than her next meal, assures me that I have prepared her correctly." Vitamins (actually for human babies), called "Poly Visol with iron", are administered three times a week, and are purchased from a local drug store. Only two or three drops per gallon are needed. Dr. Benz does not place much faith in conformation only. "Good ones come in all shapes and sizes, but they all must have stamina and a good brain. Can you see into their head?" Hawk patrol is facilitated by enlisting the neighborhood crow population with bread. Shouting, or sometimes keeping the flock in altogether, also has some benefits!

Unaware that it had been reprinted, an enraptured Dr. Benz, got his pigeon career started in the fifth grade after reading Dr. Leon Whitney's Pigeon City. That's all it took! He also recommends club recruiters show the movie Where Pigeons Go to Die, starring Michael Landon and Art Carney. The movie is interesting, and represents the sport in a good light. Dr. Benz started with rollers, migrated into the racing scene, and has never looked back. Even while in the navy, an infatuated, young Dr. Benz drove around Baltimore, looking for pigeons that were exercising. Dr. Benz credits Ohio-Penn Federation representative Calvin White of Pittsburgh, for keeping the sport in Southwestern Pennsylvania off of life-support because of his dependable assistance in getting pigeons competently trained. "I'd hate to think where we'd be without him", he complimented. "Calvin will even go to flyers homes to pick up birds".

For elaboration on secrets perhaps not fully explored here, you can reach the wonderful Dr. Benz, at 412 276 3444, or email Paul Get him warmed up, and I guarantee you an interesting visit. Good luck.

Jim Berdis, Erie, Pennsylvania


1st Erie/P.O.NY. Section 2009 Federation 500

There is an interesting story in Erie, Pa, that needs to be told. Now at 71 years of age, Mr. James Berdis, is at the top of his game, and on June 27, 2009, again won 1st Erie/PONY section of the competitive Ohio-Penn Federation 500, taking 18th position overall, with the check cock, 2123 IF ERIE 08, flying 579 miles, clocking at 06:24:18, second morning. The good, yearling cock placed in the top 1.25 percentile of all birds raced, but there's more here than meets the eye! James Berdis's Federation 500 clockings have averaged in the 1.85 percentile for four of the last five years. (In case you're confused, that means he has defeated 98.15% of his competitors for four of the last five years, or 5689 of the 5796 birds he competed against.) In addition, in three of the last seven years, Berdis has clocked day-birds from a distance of 579 miles (You read that right!). What is also jaw dropping, is that this great long distance champion has clocked day-birds in the Federation 400, flying 493 miles, for ten years in a row. (No, that's not a typo!) Those ten day-birds also put him up in the "oxygen-depleted" zone, nearly topping the chart with a ten year average in the 2.82 percentile, again defeating a mere 97.18% of the other pigeons along the way. Since starting with the Ohio-Penn Federation, the tenacious Mr. Berdis has won his section in the 400 and 500, six times, and , at last count, in his own Erie Club, has won seventeen (17) 500 mile races, and twelve (12) 600 mile races, all the while, feeling uncomfortable telling anyone about it. (But then, that's my job.)

It makes one ask, "What does this fellow fancier know that we don't? How does he do it? Well, listen up, for we have some clues to his maddening success! By current standards, Erie, Pennsylvania, was once a pigeon racing Mecca compared to many areas of the country. For years, the Erie Racing Pigeon Club had 25 members that flew consistently, (currently 15 flying old birds, and another 16 or so, flying young birds), and they all lived pretty much in the Erie County, making for a very tight and lively pigeon racing environment. (You could say it made for a fair fight every weekend!) Then there was the extended family. All related, are father-in-law Ted Rocky, older brother Joe Berdis, cousin Ed Abramoski, nephew Tim Merski, son James Berdis II and our champion James Berdis; and all flew pigeons, becoming in the process a modern day, pigeon racing dynasty. In the beginning, older brother Joe Berdis had the pigeons, and when once asked to clock for Joe while on a date, younger brother James Berdis was hooked. After the experience, James Berdis met Ted Rocky, of Erie pigeon racing fame, and fell in love with Ted's daughter, Barbara, who was also a cousin of Buffalo pigeon racing sensation, Ed Abramoski, a trainer for the NFL's Buffalo Bills. A by-product of mating the "best to the best" of the two great pigeon families, was, of course, the Ohio-Penn Federation's own James Berdis II, and a fine competitor (and representative) of the Erie/PONY section, he is. Ted and Joe are gone now, but in the old days, a lot of learning, problem solving and collaborating got done. They had been close. They talked a lot, and it included friends, Frank Stadler, (and the great distance flyer) Carl Suhr, both of Buffalo, who along with Ed, taught the opened minded Berdis a lot about the fine art of conditioning. (Ed Abramoski still calls him frequently, and of course, conditioning athletes is what Ed Abramoski eats and breathes!)

First of all, we find that the natural flying Mr. Berdis is a meticulous record keeper, who can rattle off his own performance statistics in any particular discussion with great rapidity! He is a traditional flyer; has never had an electronic timer, and competes with a 50 bird old bird team, but what's different for this natural flyer is that he has more luck with his cock-birds. It is, generally, a given in this sport, that hens are best for long distance racing. Even the secretive widowhood guys give up, and get their hens on eggs for the long ones, but no one ever convinced the venerable Mr. Berdis. In eight of the last ten annual Fed 400 contests, Mr. Berdis has befuddled his competitors with his medium-sized cocks from 493 miles. The two times his hens hit the lead position, marked the long distance Maestro's sixth and eighth worst performances in the event. In Fed 400 and 500 mile races combined, his hens have scored first to the loft, only six times in the 20 races reviewed over a ten year period. According to Mr. Berdis, motivation varies with different birds, however, his two best ever performing cock-birds in the Fed 400, 3417 IF ERIE 00 (winning twice at 4th and 29th overall), and 661 IF ERIE 03 (winning twice at 21st and 15th overall), were both flying home to eight day old youngsters. In 2001, the tough 3417 was the only day-bird in Erie County! Old birds that race may breed one, maybe two youngsters, but never start before 22 February.

Like many of the champions profiled, the grizzled old veteran, Mr. Berdis, is a man of routines and subtleties. His antennae are always up, and he tweaks the rough edges of his racing program when he needs to, but he has a system that runs like a strong river current, and he sticks to it. (1) Short races are used to condition his team for long races, and the stars don't miss the short races! (2) Lofts are not cleaned during the racing season so that good pigeons don't feel challenged in the security of their own territory. (3) Antibiotics are not used unless a "good bird" is sick, while others are quietly dispatched if their constitution can't meet the demand. (4) He does not treat for canker. (5) Vitamins are provided only during the race season. (6) Between races, birds are fed at noon and 18:00 hours, never fed barley, and are never short-changed on feed quality. A caring Mr. Berdis thinks most fanciers under-nourish their steeds in the cold winter months dramatically reducing the bird's performance the following spring. He does not worry about a bird's weight, believing that the good ones keep their weight in check. ("A good bird is almost always in race form"). (7) On shipping day, the feeding routine changes. Racers are given a tablespoon in the morning, fed at again at noon, with the expectation that most food will have digested before going into the basket (Read the bio of champion Paul Benz.). (8) After a race, cod liver oil is mixed with the feed, and must be eaten before anything else is provided.

Once again, defying conventional wisdom, the old General, Mr. Berdis, (9) likes youth in his surrogates. Fifty (50%) percent of his race entries are yearlings. Older birds make up the balance. Of the twelve Erie Club 600 mile races won, seven were won by yearlings, three by two year olds, one by a three year old, and one by a five year old. Of his seventeen Erie Club 500 mile victories, eight were won by yearlings, five by 2 year olds, and four by three year olds. In perusing his Federation racing record, only once did your writer see anything over three years old as his first bird on the sheet, and that was a four year old cock-bird. The master, Mr Berdis, is convinced that as they age, older birds tend to become "more just homing pigeons", losing along the way, the fire and tenacity of youth, making them less valuable for winning, unless the race is a "smash", in which case, they'll shine. Despite the fact that he loves young bird racing, and for years sponsored the Joe Berdis Memorial, the old champion thinks most good birds are ruined before they ever get a chance to race as old birds, when worked too hard as youngsters, so (10) the future contribution of each bird is planned; the speedsters with a short fore-arm are hammered. The distance birds, with a longer fore-arm, are means tested, then held for the important old bird races the next spring. (Over the years, Mr. Berdis has developed quite a feel for fore-arms.)

With a statistical record second to no one, we could go on and on about the game-changing manipulations this incredible flyer could share with us, but to get more of those little details, you need to call him yourself. He's retired. He is the best at what he does, and, he can be reached somewhere up near the lake at 814-455-4617. Good luck in your pursuit.

B&P (Bee and Pete) Loft, Cleveland, Ohio



The Dean of the pigeon racing in Ohio must, surely, be Mr. Pete Lobas, of Cleveland. Mr. Lobas, who is an 84 year old, retired electrician, is married to Bee, a beautiful "pigeon wife", who many say, may know more about the competitive nature of these athletic little birds than Mr. Pete, himself. (It is reported that Miss Bee trains, handles and pushes old Pete, like Woody Hayes did the great teams of the Ohio State Buckeyes!) The Lobas's, on June 27, 2009, won 1st Cleveland section, 19th overall, in the 2009 Ohio-Penn 500 mile Federation race with a blue cock, 5864 OCH AU 07, against 1445 birds and 109 lofts, placing their winner in the top 1.35 percentile of the race. The good blue was clocked at 19:44:44, from 481 miles, flying 1066 ypm, and is, interestingly, the grandson of a "Barcelona winner" (but, we'll come back to that.). The section win is a first for Mr. and Mrs. Lobas, who for years raced with Cleveland's OCH club (the oldest club in Ohio until disbanded in 2009), which was a non-participant, for the greater part, in Ohio-Penn Federation racing.

High-octane Pete got his pigeon career started 70 years ago (that's at fourteen), served for 30 years as race secretary of several clubs in the greater Cleveland metropolitan area, and is a stickler for quality in his race team. The birds are "loved hard and sorted thoroughly" according to Miss Bee. Mr. Lobas is a "classic widowhood" enthusiast, racing a small team of ten pair of widowers, and is now, a member of the competitive GAR club of Akron, Ohio, sponsors of the exciting, national GNEO futurity race.

To fire up his speedy 500 mile surrogate, Mr. Pete teased the two-year-old cock-bird (who has always arrived home in clocking time), with his mate more frequently than normal, during the two weeks prior to the race. "You've got to love, and to be loved by your birds, to properly prepare them for the 500", added a proud, smiling Mr. Lobas. This widowhood master's refined act of pre-race stimulation worked well, for Mr. Lobas, who along with close friend and two-time winner of the GNEO Futurity, Mr. Terry Finnerty, of Seven Hills, Ohio, were the only Cleveland section competitors to get day-birds in the classic 500 mile Federation race. Coincidentally, Lobas and Mr. Finnerty, fly the same family of birds. The bloodlines of the winner, "5864", spring from a family originally imported and refined by the great, late Mike Gallo of Cleveland, who affectionately mentored Finnerty for many years, like a father would a son. On Gallo's passing, the great birds in the Gallo loft moved to Finnerty, who has generously assisted his neighbor, the caring, old gentleman, Mr. Lobas. The "5864" was sired by an imported Gaby/Vandenabeele cock that was crossed with another Gallo import, an Andre' Desmet/Vermander hen, the daughter of a "Barcelona winner". The same blood ran in the veins of Mike Gallo's AU Champion, number "359 OCR 97 AU", who was 2nd Overall in the 2000 Federation 400. So, here we go again, as it was with Champions Long, Nelson, Benz and Berdis before him, we see that in Pete's loft, great birds descend from great birds. "Most American fanciers have not discovered, or have not developed, the potential champions staring back at them from their own perches, but yet, these same fanciers keep squandering opportunity, looking for overly simplified "single acts" that they can duplicate, or purchase, to become a champion. So much imported blood has been purchased, spread around in futurities, or shared with friends that it would be extremely unlikely for that not to be the case", explained Mr. Lobas. But, "cutting corners" does not work. As we have seen from Mr. Pete and Miss Bee, "winning is the result of a lifetime of study and preparation, put into action". There are no shortcuts!

The streetwise, and talented, Mr. Lobas can be reached at 216-749-5140 or email Pete, if you seek additional conversation with a master of the art of widowhood racing. He's a giver, who loves the sport, and wants to see it survive. This man can help you if you are not winning. We urge you to call this highly respected, well informed, peaceful and graceful man, and let him help you fine tune your racing program.

Gary Marsh, Frostburg, Maryland





[ 520 ]

Dan's Mountain (elevation 2300 feet), is located in western Maryland, near Frostburg, about 80 miles south-southeast of downtown Pittsburgh, 40 miles south of interstate 70, or 60 miles straight east of Morganton, West Virginia (Got all that?). From there, cattleman, Gary Marsh, from a little dot in Illinois, on interstate 70, has a most difficult job, of getting his race birds to fly just a tad to the southeast in typically southwesterly winds, and to break from a flock of nearly 1500 pigeons, that want to fly in a northeasterly direction toward, say, Cleveland, Youngstown, Erie, or Buffalo. What's more, if his carefully selected little minions don't break for home right out of the trailer, poor Mr. Marsh is forever screwed. (By screwed, one means that his little lovelies fly an arc instead of a straight line, and add many, many unwanted miles to their very precocious trip, delaying their arrival, and negating the purpose of all of the trouble in the first place. By forever, one means, for the period of time it takes to end such a pigeon racing nightmare.) However, in two of the last three years, the determined former high school football coach, Mr. Marsh, has succeeded in doing just that; finding himself, for those two races, in the 2.19 percentile, against an average of 1478 birds and 107 lofts; a very good showing for even a northern loft that would have assistance from both wind and drag at release. (For the statistically challenged reader, that means our Mr. Marsh has beaten 97.81% of the birds competed against, with great odds of wind and loft location against him, all the while knowing that no one else in the Federation would ever trade living addresses with him!)

So, then it was, on June 27, 2009, the 61 year old fellow, Mr. Marsh, with absolutely the worst loft position in the Federation, won 1st Club, 1st Combine, 1st Section and 23rd Overall in the Ohio-Penn Federation 500, racing against 1445 birds from 109 lofts, with a two year old blue hen, 520 IRPC IF 07. The super bred, little hen, clocked at 07:11:53, second morning, flying against a north-northeast headwind in 85 degree heat, flew the event in 1046 ypm; and, with such an early clocking, surely, just missed being a coveted day-bird from 597 miles. Hyper-motivated with 18 day old pipping eggs, by an experienced Mr. Marsh, the valuable little hen was sired by blue cock, 1572 IRPC 00 IF, himself a long distance crack (being 33rd overall in the 2001 Federation 500, against 1901 birds from 138 lofts), and grand-sired by blue cock, number 5045 GCC IF 91, a Bolla Mueleman, that was 1993 Club Champion Old Bird, being 1st 100, 2nd 140, 1st 200, 1st 300, 1st 300, 2nd 500, as a two year old, before being stocked. This is the same genetics scenario, we have seen throughout the course of these profiles. (One does not breed Belmont winners (thoroughbreds) from quarter horse stock plying the quarter tracks in Los Alamos!) You get long distance aces, from long distance aces. The apple, you may remember, does not fall far from the tree.

A turn of events took place for Gary Marsh in the early nineties, who as a driven teacher and coach, had little time for successful pigeon racing, until retirement changed things, causing a now more relaxed Mr. Marsh to rededicate himself to the sport he had loved since a kid in college. Having grown tired of pigeon racing mediocrity (an internal audit displayed a hurtful lack of horsepower), an invigorated Gary Marsh corralled his son, and flew in his own plane to see the reputed high priest of long distance racing, Mr. Russ Burns, of Massachusetts. From that encounter, at $250 each, four young breeders, selected by Mr. Burns, found their way to Dan's Mountain. Later, in a show of support, Mr. Burns gifted to Mr. Marsh, another red cock with a beautiful eye, for which Mr. Burns had declined $3000 at auction, to further solidify the genetic base; this following some verbal jousting Mr. Marsh had taken from the rowdy Pittsburgh crowd about letting Burns, on his own, make the selection of the first birds. ("Let's see how they deal with that old boy", countered a ruffled Mr. Burns,) Referred then, by Burns, to Florida resident (by way of Mansfield, Ohio) Mr. Joe Gerich, a resolute Mr. Marsh added a line of Desmet-Matthys blood; and from Chardon, Ohio, friend Ed Mills, two pair of Joe Causey, blue Janssens were added to the mix. A final act of stabilizing the bloodline occurred, when the oracle, Mr. Burns called to inform a now, very, devoted Marsh, that eggs from the Burns widowhood team were ready to go, and included outstanding blood from a rich Kansas City attorney with a penchant for long distance prairie racing (the source, it turned out, of the great 5045, Bolla Meueleman, blue cock, mentioned earlier). So into the airplane, they went again! The necessary substitutions and fixations were coordinated, and the rest is history, as they say! To Hell, with strains! Once again, we see mighty good anecdotal evidence, that performance pigeons are the key to long-lasting careers in this tempestuous sport!

Marsh, is now a 'natural flyer', having flown twelve widowhood cocks for only a short time, under the tutelage of Joe Gerich, who the adoring Marsh says, has secret widowhood methodology that he dare not divulge. Flying with a team of thirty old birds, Marsh goes easy on race frequency, believing that birds sent every weekend, lose interest. He learned from his coaching days, that exercise and conditioning can be overdone. ("You don't want your boys losing their legs on Friday night!" explained the wary former coach.) After Saturday races, birds are given a good feeding on Sunday, rotated to barley Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then back to heavier feed Thursday and Friday. On shipping day, birds are fed and watered to a schedule, with water being held until the appropriate time to ensure good hydration, that schedule shifting, depending on shipping times. Medication is limited to a multi-mix for wormer, coccidiosis and canker that is given on Mondays after the race. Preseason worming is done with Ivermectin. A, now retrofitted, happy Mr. Marsh, is a strong advocate for better bird quality, better husbandry and more bird space. "Not all birds can win distance races, and lots of free pigeons are worth what you pay for them. Deal only with people you trust and like, and once you get good seed stock, the rest is up to you. You have to do your part to win, let alone, to become a champion."

They say a man never forgets his first love, and that may be, but (sorry Mrs. Marsh), we think our champion, Mr. Gary, was just as enraptured by the man from whom he received his first 'free' homing pigeons; a Mr. Galen Beeman (a relative of Marsh's mother), whose life revolved around the beautiful birds. And then, making an equal imprint on the psychic of the future coach, Mr. Marsh, is the man from whom he received his first racing pigeon winner, a Mr. Ervin 'Lanky" Buskirk (a fellow club member). These men may never have known the impact they had on a younger Mr. Marsh's life, and only God knows how he might have turned out otherwise, but those benign gestures of kindness can be very significant over the length of a man's time.

For many of you, the complete retro-fitting of the Marsh race team, may resonate. We urge you to rise up from your winter funk, reach out and undertake serious steps to reinvent your teams, if that what is needed. Gary Marsh is readily available to discuss strategies, and to encourage you. He can be reached at 301-463-6557.

Tony Conti, Kirtland. Ohio



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In Kirtland, Ohio, Mr. Tony Conti has developed the unusual aptitude of handling and selecting his entries for the competitive Ohio-Penn Federation races in the dark (more on that later). And, on June 27, 2009, it paid off, again, with a big win of the "Lake Section"; his third 500 section win, and 7TH Federation section win, overall. Racing against 1445 birds, and 109 area lofts, Conti scored 33rd overall (2.28 percentile), in the 2009 Ohio-Penn 500 mile Federation classic, with check cock "1580 LCF 06 IF", clocking the three year old, at 21:12:58, after flying 501 miles, motoring along at 999 ypm, and having the only two day-birds within the limits of the three closest clubs. In a race where, typically, the overall winners and "chart toppers" enter 35 to 40 birds per race (It has been as high as 112!), Conti, with his night-time escapades, has averaged placing his first bird in the 5.01 percentile over seven of the last eight years, with a small-team entry of just 10 birds per race. For clarification, the definition of a low percentile rating hasn't changed; he defeated 95% of the pigeons in these important races by going into his loft at night, and essentially, selecting his racing roster by feel, as if his eyes were closed, while sending only ten of them into battle!

Conti is highly skilled at his craft. He's an artist (but, at peace with himself), flying the natural system, with the 18 member NERC club (8 old bird fliers; 12 young bird fliers) in northeastern Ohio, and has been racing pigeons for many, many years. (He goes back far enough, in fact, to remember when the big Cleveland clubs kept spittoons on the bars in the clubhouses! He remembers the food, the long tables filled with clocks, the full parking lots. He can also remember lofts on every inner city street, and, even a time when widowhood was banned in Cleveland, as the club overseers tried to find a way to control the great Sion, widowhood flyer, Stan Biesadecki! In those days, a good flyer could win enough pool money to replace a job. "They didn't like it when one guy won too much.")

Conti is an observant man, continually scanning the social activities within the loft, like a mariner would radar, looking for little machinations that could be used to tease and stimulate his charges. Most of these motivational adjustments are knee-jerk reactions to random activities that he has seen, or sensed. Generally, Mr. Conti expects to clock his hens first, which he likes to motivate with eggs. Birds are rarely medicated, but do get regular treatments of vinegar. He likes calm birds, and is big on rest. When training, there is no open loft. Some days, there may even be no exercise. When loft chores are done, the facility is shut down, allowing no more interruption. Rarely, is there a time that all birds are entered in a race. A bird's conformation and attitude are matched to weather and distance, for it is paramount, in Conti's judgment, that his minions not ever be discouraged (or hurt) as a result being entered in the wrong race.

An important big race procedure for Conti, as mentioned earlier, is to enter the loft (in the dark) before day light, to catch and handle birds that have been sitting all night. He likes to develop a feel as to the bird's fleshing and vitality, after they have been without water for a long period of time. Birds targeted for specific races are evaluated this way five to seven days before shipping, giving him ample time to make last minute adjustments to his pre-race feeding program. Birds are fed a strictly monitored mixed grain diet, which includes pellets off-season, and is adjusted for oil and fat, per weather conditions. On race day, chow is fed early, then nothing (weather permitting), but waiting. The tough Conti pigeons are raced hard, then, regretfully culled at season's end, ruling out birds that he knows others would keep. The Conti loft is located about 45 minutes north of Akron, Ohio, being about eight miles south of Lake Erie.

His genetic base came by way of the legendary Ray Sulkowski (the only flyer to win both AU and IF convention races), once of Cleveland, and includes birds from Buffalo great, Mike Tomyzak's Vandermere family. Handling an old bird team of fifteen to eighteen birds, Conti has never flown big numbers, but that has never prevented him from performing big, with an 8th overall in the 2006 Federation 400, 8th overall in the 2004 Federation 400, and 7th overall in the 2002 Federation 500 (this against 1350, 1846 and 2500 birds, respectively). He is a proven trainer of young bird teams as well, having won the OCR Futurity race in 2008, and placing 2nd overall, in the highly coveted (and bountiful) 2005 GNEO Futurity race, missing the top spot by a mere two minutes.

Aspiring to be a champion is easy, but continuing to be a champion is much more difficult, and time consuming. Tony Conti likens himself to a seasoned head coach. He is a winner, and a motivator, and his birds are his highly respected partners. A humble man, Mr. Conti remains true to his motto: "Every day I live. Every day I learn." Intent on growth, he "picks the brains of his peers', reads articles, asks questions, and never, ever, assumes he has the only answer. "It's a fickle sport we compete in, and when you "screw up", you get to think about it for a year before you get another shot at it", laments Conti. So, Tony Conti plans carefully. With a pleasant manner, and a helpful demeanor, the "great charmer of small teams" is available most snow days at 440-256-3112. He likes to talk, knows his pigeons, and can help provide some direction if you are looking for ideas to reinvent your racing format. This old boy is what we call "all around good". Call him. Don't put it off.

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