UKC 7-27-12

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 27, 2012

Good hunting led UKC to ‘tiny’ Batesville

By Billy Davis

He likes the Batesville Civic Center

But it’s the hunting that won him over.

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Todd Kellam, vice president of events at the United Kennel Club, visited Batesville and its civic center earlier this year as part of a scouting trip through much of Mississippi and the Mid-South.

Kellam, traveling alone, landed in Jackson to seek a new United Kennel Club venue for the 2013 Winter Classic, a three-day event that combines a bench show and nightly coon hunting competitions with champion dogs.

His travels took him from to Jackson to Canton to Tunica, with a scheduled stop in Batesville, too, before he departed from Memphis.

The UKC is headquartered in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  

For 25 years the Winter Classic has drawn 1,000 dogs and 10,000 people annually to the Exchange Club Fairgrounds in Albany, Georgia (population: 77,432). But the UKC was seeking a more centralized location farther west, somewhere in the Deep South.

Enter the town of Batesville (population: 7,462) or, more exactly, the rolling hills, Delta woodlands and river bottoms that create some of the best deer and duck hunting in the South.
And coon hunting, too.

The Panolian reported earlier this week that Batesville and its civic center have snagged the biggest client to date when the UKC announced it was moving eight hours west to a new location, which the Albany Herald newspaper called the “tiny town of Batesville” that has a “poverty rate of 36 percent.”  

The Albany newspaper apparently cherry-picked U.S. Census figures to find that poverty rate (Albany’s 18-and-under rate is 55 percent), but the community has good reason to behave like a spurned lover.

In Albany, the Winter Classic pumped nearly $2 million into the local economy over just three days, when hunters and hunting dog fanciers from across the country traveled there, staying in Albany’s hotels and eating in Albany’s restaurants and filling up their automobiles with Albany gasoline.

Now Winter Classic attendees are giving Batesville a chance — especially with their money.

“Hopefully our people understand what this means for Batesville,” said Mayor Jerry Autrey. “We need to put on a welcome-to-Batesville smile and treat these folks like they need to be treated.”

The Winter Classic attendees will judge Batesville by store clerks and waitresses, who make the biggest impression on guests and should be friendly and helpful, the mayor explained.  

“If this is a trial run for us, then we need to put our best foot forward,” he said.   

On its Web site, the UKC wasted little time spreading word about its new venue. The Web site now lists five Batesville hotels, 35 area restaurants, and 58 retail establishments.  

It’s obvious to anybody (except maybe the Albany Herald) that Batesville is capable of hosting the Winter Classic. But there is still a lingering question: thanks for picking us but… why?

Now we know a little bit of the why.   

From the UKC office in Michigan, Kellam explained this week that the Batesville Civic Center is a pleasant venue for the bench show and vendor booths. But he stressed that good coon hunts are not just helpful for the Winter Classic, they’re what make or break the event.

“Hunting is the key ingredient,” Kellam said. “If you don’t have a good hunting setup, it doesn’t matter what kind of facility you use.”

“Coonhound enthusiasts and their families are certain to find the hardwood bottoms of the famed Mississippi Delta to their liking,” the UKC stated when it announced the new venue.

The announcement also stated the organization has already contacted hunting guides in the area, and Kellam further explained that six coon hunting clubs have committed so far to act as guides.

“I’ve made contact with them and they’re very happy to be part of this,” he told The Panolian, which is not surprising to anybody but the Albany Herald if you know how helpful Mississippians can be.

The coon hunting competition, scheduled for January 25 and 26, is expected to take place within 60 miles of Batesville, about an hour’s drive from the civic center.

Regarding the civic center itself, BCC director Roy Hyde said the UKC was impressed with the size and layout of the civic center for the bench shows.

Hyde said the largest crowd to date at the BCC was a near-sellout crowd of 3,000 for arena cross, and he was told a crowd of 15,000 came and went at the fairgrounds in Albany, Georgia last year.

“Absolutely,” Hyde said, when asked if the civic center is capable of hosting such a large crowd.

“This is a huge coup for Batesville,” Hyde said, “and we’re ready to make them feel at home.”

The BCC employs five full-time employees and six part-timers, he said. Concessions are under contract with Lynn Dover Ray.  

In the Tuesday Panolian story, Hyde complimented hotel owner Vijay Vaghela and his family for help in “pulling together” the Winter Classic.

The Vaghela family owns three Batesville hotels — Holiday Inn, Day’s Inn and Quality Inn — and the family has agreed to make the hotels temporarily “pet friendly” for the Winter Classic.  

Holiday Inn at 210 Power Drive is the “host hotel” for the Winter Classic. It’s also the newest in Batesville.  

“In the history of Holiday Inn they have never have accepted pets — ever,” Vijay Vaghela said, calling the temporary change a “big compromise” for the three Batesville hotels.  

He said the change came after Holiday Inn fielded its first phone call for a room booking, and the woman on the other end of the phone let Vaghela know her opinion of the no-pets policy.

“We realized real quick what was happening and decided to change the policy,” he explained.

Kellam said Batesville’s “pet friendly” policy was an early issue for Winter Classic attendees. Many of the hunting dogs remain crated and the bench show dogs, which are groomed and bathed for the contest, are well-trained and obedient animals.

“I’ll tell you, people can get upset about that issue,” he said.  

Asked if the Winter Classic will be “testing the waters” in Batesville next January, Kellam said he believes the UKC has found a new home.

“We’re expecting everything to go smoothly and expecting to stay there,” Kellam said of the new venue.

A small staff of UKC employees will arrive in Batesville in coming weeks to begin planning the layout of the Winter Classic at Batesville Civic Center, he said.