By Ezra Lee Kohli
OHIO-PENN OB PIGEON RACING
IN THE AMERICAN RUST BELT, 2011
The 2011 Ohio Penn Federation Old Bird racing season came to an end quickly. It is hard to imagine that a nine week season could pass so soon, but then, that’s half the challenge of pigeon racing in America. Our racing programs are short. You have to be ready to compete when you’re supposed to be ready. When it is time to train, you train, and when it is time to race, you better be ready to race. If you fall behind, there is no time to recover. If errors in judgment are made, or omissions in planning take place, and your team doesn’t perform at its best, there are no second chances. You wait for another full year for another crack at perfection. You get to go home and think about what might have been, and about what you should have done that you did not do.
Every Team Needs a Determined Head Coach.
Of course, this is a sport that lends itself to perfection. Over time, the exceptional trainer/managers massage everything, and try to anticipate everything. The lofts become battle ships with everything in its place. Not a thing gets overlooked. So under-performing teams drive most competitive pigeon men crazy, for as the head coach, preparation, strategy, and readiness is your reason for existence! You cleaned, culled, trained, nurtured, stole time and spent greatly all year long so you could perform at the uppermost level when the new season arrived. At that critical moment in time, it all has to come together. Winning consistently, allows zero tolerance for procrastinators, fumblers or excuse-makers. There is no time to waste, and an intense impatience for poor performance is almost a pre-requisite for racing well among the elite Midwestern pigeon flyers of the Ohio-Penn Federation.
The Sport Is In Recession.
High unemployment, hurtful gas prices, $9/bushel corn, and the great US recession is still squeezing participation in our beloved sport in the rust belt, but numbers have recovered slightly from 2010, while remaining well below the prime years of 2000 to 2003, when it was common to see 150 lofts competing. Our dear friends on pensions have had their hands full, and sadly, America’s young people don’t take an interest in things of an animal nature like they once did, so we depend on our seniors for our sport to thrive.
As the sport in our area of Midwestern America enters its twilight, the Ohio-Penn Federation races have gained much in prominence. Most club races are now just pygmy-sized scrimmages between a few friends, so winning at the club level means little to aggressive competitors that want to establish impressive credentials. Also, we find that combine races are not much bigger than club races once were, so locally, it is only in the major distance events of the Ohio-Penn Federation that one can get a true sense of accomplishment for performance done well.
But You Can Still Smile.
When you perform at the top in one of these interstate competitions (parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, and Maryland) your team has accomplished something uncommon. You have reason to puff yourself up a bit. Pigeon people look at you differently. They remember your name, notice your presence, ask you to address seminars, and even begin to think you know things for which you haven’t a clue. The Chinese brokers sometimes even call. Your head can swell, and you can beam with pride. You might even be tempted to write a book, or to put a sign, “Pigeon Motivational Speaker” on the side of your truck! And, if you can keep performing well in Ohio Penn Federation races, it quickly becomes evident to your fellow flyers that you might be taking command of this fickle and irrational sport in ways that are magical to the rest of us mere mortals!
The Federation Race Program.
In 2011, the Ohio-Penn Federation had only three races; a warm-up 300 mile race from Cloverdale, Indiana, sporting 1321 birds from 89 lofts; followed by a more demanding 400 mile race from Effingham, Illinois, with 1024 birds from 93 lofts; and finally a testy 500 mile race from Bellville, Illinois, with 1129 birds from 92 lofts. A fourth race (400) that had been on the schedule in past years, was dropped, but is again being discussed.
The center of the front was 45 degrees to the northeast, and birds were flying to Vic Miller’s Cleveland and to Buffalo, Pittsburgh and points east. Lofts are located in all areas of the 90 degree quadrant. The course is flat to gently rolling and agriculturally oriented, interspersed every few hundred miles with major cities like Indianapolis, Columbus and Canton. Winds are mostly from the southwest, theoretically assisting the birds. Hawk predation is intimidating and irritating. This year 15 mph NNW shoulder winds were crossing the course on the 400 and 500 mile races, but the Fed 300 was a blessed event. No significant wind blew, and only 25 seconds separated key northern and southern lofts.
An interval of two weeks separates each Federation event, and since the Fed is a long distance organization at its core, the 400 and 500 mile races are considered to be the races that the real men want to win.
We Must Give Something Back.
In 2009, this past-his-prime writer wrote a series of 19 articles and profiles on some prominent flyers in the Ohio-Penn Federation. At the end of each, we suggested to those among us struggling with pigeon performance issues that you call the decent fellows profiled, and we provided you the information necessary for doing so. The suggestion was made not so some could profit by selling birds, but because we wanted you to become successful and enthused about your pigeon racing hobby, if you weren’t already. It was an attempt to give something back to the sport we love.
We know that wide ranging success is necessary for the sport to prosper. No one will tolerate being a loser for long, and those not getting some positive feedback will bolt to other activities if not helped along the way by those that do succeed.
In a perfectly balanced racing organization, no one should dominate for season after season for the wrong reasons. Domination must be the result of knowledge, experience, work ethic and bird quality. Objectivity when determining the reason for disparity is the tricky part. Understanding reasons for the balance as it exists, becomes an unofficial responsibility of the organization. As it massages schedules, and tinkers with small factors that help kindle competition, it beneficially creates competitive tension as each team strives to re-exert a measure of dominance. The perfect atmosphere for racing is created. Then anyone can win if they share the stated pre-requisites. In that environment those not winning just need patience and encouragement to hang in there. And, because of their good attitudes reinforced by the good flyers around them, they will patiently hang in there knowing that their day is sure to come.
Genuinely good flyers will always find a way to regain dominance. Just give them time. But, it is not the function of the organization to see that dominant racing cliques hang on to their winning ways. Its purpose is to ensure fairness, and with it growth, good will and some measure of joy for its participants. What finally makes the sport wonderful is that people are interacting positively, being creative and having fun.
If you did not follow through with a call last year, there is still time. Many of the same names are back with a vengeance, and most of these gentlemen are the quiet, thoughtful types that would feel an inner reward by helping anyone disadvantaged for whatever reasons.
So Here We Go Again.
Mr. Heber Nelson, Lisbon, Ohio (330 386 5925)
We urged you then to call Mr. Heber Nelson of Lisbon, Ohio. This year, Nelson was 1st Overall in the Ohio-Penn Federation 300; was 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th in the Ohio Penn Federation 400; and came in 2nd, 9th, 12th, and 14th in the Ohio Penn Federation 500. He had an awesome season. (Nelson dominates for all the right reasons.) Heber flies an established family of inbred Buschaerts and Stichelbauts that he crosses. Amongst all competitors in the Ohio-Penn Federation, the humble, and centrally located, Mr. Nelson has the best average record in the Federation 400 over the last 11 years. He is also a former Overall Winner of the Federation 400; a former Overall Winner of the Federation 500, and a former Overall Winner of the nationally respected GNEO Futurity Race. He could compete at any level of racing in America.
On a cold winter day in February, during a seminar that he presented, we found the reason for his success. Her name is Roberta, and she very quietly supports her husband, doing much of the background work that makes this team function at such a continuously high level. Heber and Roberta are our very best, and this writer benefits in no way by saying that.
Mr. Mick Himich, Latrobe, Pennsylvania (724 539 7977)
And then consider the great Mick Himich of Latrobe, Pennsylvania. In 2009, we exposed this great talent to an international audience with a profile following his 1st Overall, 2009, Ohio Penn Federation 400 win against 1615 birds from 133 lofts. The Mick received accolades from London, and calls from as far away as Australia. Our Mick is a common man; a kind and generous human being, and his hard work with his team was once again rewarded in 2011, with a 1st Overall win in the prestigious Ohio Penn Federation 500, against 1129 birds and 92 lofts.
The small, winning hen, IRPC 920 IF 09, flew 576 miles at 1334 ypm, flying for 12 hours and 39 minutes, to 12 day old eggs, and is a product of crossing Mick’s Beckaert family with his daddy’s old Bricoux family. As a yearling in 2010, the same little hen flew the same race, also on the same day of toss. This was her third 2011 race. (150/350/576)
And, here is an interesting aside: In 2010, the Ohio Penn Federation held an autumn auction of champion stock on I Pigeon to raise day-to-day operating funds for the organization. Mr. Mick kindly donated a beautiful young stock hen from his family of pigeons that he has cultivated since his daddy’s time in Pittsburgh, when combine races saw 7000 birds competing. The genetics descend from a collection of exceptional performance pigeons, and include blood from the Detroit Beckaert family. The donated bird was bred from a Section Winner of the 2010 Ohio Penn Federation 400. She sold too cheaply we all thought, as we hee-hawed back and forth. We were right. The mother of the auctioned hen was none other than IRPC 920, Overall Winner of the 2011 Ohio Penn Federation 500. Someone got a great deal when they took a chance on that sweet little hen. It is obvious that you can continue to be rewarded when you buy stock from performance families that win consistently. Look for the workhorses, not the show horses.
(If you missed the first one, there will be a 2011 auction of great long distance genetics again this fall on Fred Smeltzer’s I-Pigeon website.)
Time has proven that Himich is for real; a genuine champion of our time who eats, sleeps and breathes pigeon racing. He was mentored by a man that flew pigeons with his dad, who still competes with the Yukon, Pennsylvania, club; the Mule Shed’s Harry Humburger, now 83 years old. It is said that the colorful Harry Humburger is a wizard at the art of widowhood, and it was through Humburger that Mick got his first taste of the famously tough Beckaerts.
Like Nelson, Himich could hold his own against the best in the sport. Losing a pigeon race, for Mick, is just completely unacceptable, and because of that mentality he will always be a great pigeon racing competitor, just as sure as he’ll always be Mr. Mick Himich. Given enough time, he’ll find an honest way to win.
Mr. James R. Berdis, Erie, Pennsylvania (814 455 4617)
A year ago, you read in my writings about the great long distance champion, James R. Berdis of Erie, Pennsylvania. They also read about him in London and Australia. If we lived in Europe, it would likely be the prodigious Ad Schaerlaeckens writing about this man, not me. I believe Berdis is the kind of flyer that Schaerlaeckens would be recommending to great champions like Willem de Bruyn, the Dutch Flying Dentist, as they search for long distance seed stock from among the great small, non-commercial flyers of Belgium, Holland and Germany.
Flying 493 miles in the Ohio-Penn Federation 400, Berdis has now had 500 mile day-birds for twelve years in a row; 43 of them to be exact. The current pigeon family descends from selected great American pigeons sent in for futurity racing for the 300 mile Joe Berdis Memorial Race. Berdis’s skill in selection was in learning to feel for a long forearm. The good long distance pigeons have it. Birds with short forearms were banned from breeding. Mr. Berdis has proven that there is truth to the madness, but it will require a call from you to him to discuss the finer details of the art.
In 2011, on a day that saw 15 mph north-northwest winds blowing across the course, this northern-most loft in the Federation would not be denied its day-bird. It logged an Erie PONY Section win in the Ohio-Penn Federation 400 by clocking its first bird at 20:34:39, 12 hours and 19 minutes on the wing. Two weeks earlier, flying 396 miles in the Ohio-Penn 300, Berdis also won the Erie/PONY Section.
It is hard to believe reports that some of our clubs in the mid-west have gone for 20 years without clocking 500 mile day-birds. As a side note, Berdis has clocked thirteen (13) day-birds from 578 miles in four of the last eleven Ohio Penn Federation 500 mile events. In 2010, his last bird clocked at 22:57:47, sixteen hours and twenty-seven minutes after its 6:30 release. How many guys do you know that have birds about which they can make that claim?
Mr. Berdis never disturbs a cock-bird in the sanctuary of its nest-box, and his tool chest is full of all sorts of other rules, gimmicks and tricks to wake up the inner stirrings in his natural flying cock-birds. Learning the subtle techniques is well worth a phone call to those looking for a master’s secrets. We have found the man from whom you can source the secrets. Now, if you’re playing catch up, or want to get ahead, find the time to make the call. This is where the separation in performance begins to manifest itself.
Berdis is the brother-in-law of ace pigeon flyer Eddie Abramoski, the famous conditioning trainer for the NFL Buffalo Bills football team. Physiology under stress is Abramoski’s expertise. Berdis says he learned a lot about conditioning from Abramoski. What the great flyer Berdis has in common with Nelson and Himich is that pigeon racing is a cornerstone in his life. Pigeon racing exudes from his pores, but this kind gentle man is terribly uncomfortable with the whole notion of being singled out for his uncommon skill.
Mr. Jimmy Berdis II (814 897 1947)
Federation watchers are eyeballing another Berdis, the only son, Jimmy Berdis II. Just as great performance pigeons come from great performance pigeons, we expect greatness to follow the lines of the James R. Berdis pedigree.
In 2010, Jimmy Berdis II won the Erie/PONY Section in the Ohio-Penn Federation 500, against 1062 birds and 77 lofts, being 8th overall. As of this writing, we are beginning to see the younger Berdis slip in front of the old champion, James R., with a little more regularity, and we have learned that some of the great old racers are quietly finding their way into the youngster’s J&A Loft, in what appears to be a sort of succession plan! Like protected family jewels, some time soon, the third Berdis generation will pick up where the second left off, and the molding, nurturing and developing of the old family will continue on into future generations.
For many in America, the breeding of 500 mile day pigeons is becoming a lost art, but in Erie, Pennsylvania, it is a sacred Berdis tradition that is very important to the memory of Jimmy’s pigeon racing grandfather, Ted Rocky, and his Uncle Joe Berdis; a tradition that many of these old American pigeon racing dynasties have sought to protect in times past. Jimmy Berdis II seems to be very capable of filling the shoes of the great Berdis pigeon fliers before him.
Mr. Stan Dickerson, Coshocton, Ohio (740 622 3903)
We wrote sometime last year that Stan Dickerson, the Last Lion of Coshocton County, could win whatever he sets his mind to with his small, effective team of classic widowhood cocks, and he did it again in 2011, by winning the Akron/Buckeye Section of the Ohio-Penn Federation 500. He was 13th overall, clocking 34 minutes behind the winner. In 2010, Stan won the Akron /Buckeye Section of the Ohio-Penn Federation 400. He is also known locally as Mr. GNEO, for being the first 2 time winner of the national race. And, in 2005, Stan put his competition on its ear by winning 1st Place Overall in the Ohio-Penn Federation 500.
Mr. Dickerson is also a short-end flyer, on the extreme southwest corner of the front, flying 445 miles in the Ohio-Penn Federation 500. Ad Schaerlaeckens says that Belgian studies give the advantage to short-enders in Belgium. Stan would want to debate that. He works his hindquarters off for every victory he celebrates, and sees winning as a matter of getting a bird motivated to fly a straight line, alone. Straight lines are hard to come by for short-enders because their still frisky pigeons have lots of temptations and distractions early in the race just when they need to be breaking. Break clean and fast, or lose. It comes down to that if Stan is to win. His pigeons have to be super motivated and can’t make mistakes. There is no time to recover. What we see typically with Stan, is that his pigeons rarely make mistakes, and he rarely has any need to recover…being the grizzled Ohio-Penn Federation Champion that he is.
Mr. and Mrs. Ralph and Zona Spring, Meadville, Pennsylvania
This is another one we threw a rope around last year, but here he is again. In 2010, Ralph and Zona won 1st Overall in the Ohio-Penn Federation 400. It was a remarkable achievement, and we celebrated with them. Ralph flies in the same tough Erie club as the great James R. Berdis and his son, and when you beat two Berdis’s at one time, you have really accomplished something. In 2011, Ralph did it again in the Ohio-Penn Federation 500, winning the Erie/Pony Section by clocking two birds in a drop at 21:15:30, flying 562 miles for fifteen hours and 30 minutes on the wing. Many Americans today have never even handled a pigeon with that kind of endurance, let alone clock two at one time.
The Spring pigeons are sourced from the All American fancier Lew Cressler of Harrisonburg, Pennsylvania, and are a Janssen based family that has been selected to fly the long races. Ralph’s racing motivational system is different. Old birds remain together, but fly only to the perch after early breeding is finished. The nest boxes are removed. After 60 years of flying from nearly the same spot, Ralph and Zona have found a way to be effective and have morphed a system around a small team that is compatible with their capabilities. If you’re not on your toes, the elderly gentleman and his wife will eat your lunch.
This year Ralph Spring will be 90 years old. Zona will be 89. If Ralph and Zona can design a system that permits them to be competitive, you certainly can find a system that works well for you.
(About the author: Ezra Lee Kohli is Secretary and Publicity Officer for the Ohio-Penn Racing Pigeon Federation. He is a 3 time Overall Winner of the Ohio-Penn Federation 400 and has been 2nd Overall, a fourth time. He is also a 9 time Section Winner in the Ohio-Penn Federation, has a BS Degree in Poultry Science from the Ohio State University, and owns and operates a 100 year old General Store, and 2 pizza shops in Ohio’s beautiful Amish Country, with his wife and step-son. They live about 1 hour south of Cleveland, Ohio. Kohli is a certified life-time fanatic of the sport.)