An Interview with Les Hutchins – Hawkins System Custodian

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This article was originally published in the Collie Club of America’s Summer 2020 Bulletin. Special thanks to Les Hutchins for sharing his time and insight. 

The Hawkins System is the Collie ranking system that the Collie Club of America uses to determine the top Collies each year. In the early 1960s, Bob Hawkins developed it through an exhaustive effort to create a more accurate and objective system. Bob managed the system for over 40 years before handing it over to Les Hutchins. Les has administered Hawkins since then and continues to publish the results annually.

Ch. Tartanside Cinnamon Elijah - Sable Collie Expression

Ch. Tartanside Cinnamon Elijah – 1994-1995 Hawkins Top Ten

(Ch. Sealore’s Grand Applause ex Tartanside Charisma) Owned by Les Hutchins, bred by John Buddie, handled by Janine Walker-Keith

Question: Les, can you share your history and experience in the breed and the Collie Club of America?

Les: My first experience with the breed was through family relatives who had always owned a Collie – and always named Lassie. It wasn’t until 1988 that I developed an interest in the show side. I started with a Sheltie but quickly learned that they were too small for me.  I joined the CCA in 1988 and attended my first national specialty in Colorado Spring (1989) before getting my first Collie.  Over the years I had some success (and failures) in the show ring but have never been interested in breeding and having litters.  I have not been out and about much recently so many may have forgotten that I ever existed.  My claim to fame rests with a Collie that a few might recall, Ch. Tartanside Cinnamon Elijah.

 

Question: How did you develop an interest in the Hawkins System, and what led you to assuming its administration from Bob Hawkins?

Les: I didn’t follow published standings closely until I had a Collie in Top 10.  I started performing my own calculations for a few years until my contender was retired.  In 1992, I was involved with the CCA Yearbook and entered all the show results for that year and used the computerized tracking, albeit manual data entry, to have all the show results for the years of interest.

As a CCA District Director, I learned that Bob Hawkins was retiring after approximately 40 years of managing the Hawkins System.  Believing that the Hawkins System provided a better representation of how Collies of each variety should be ranked for their show record, I staged a bloodless coup to take over the system.  It was important for Bob to have confidence in my ability to maintain both data and system integrity. We met a couple of times, but my understanding is Bob’s faith in me came from a combination of reputation and support from someone he greatly trusted.

 

Question: How long have you overseen the Hawkins System?

Les: Since 2004. There have been some process improvements over the years as I migrated from completely manual data entry to now where much of the necessary information comes electronically from AKC.

Since much of the information is the same, I began collating and organizing yearbook show results in 2006 and was able to reinstitute the show statistics back into the yearbook in 2008.  It didn’t make sense to duplicate data and potentially have different results for any given show.

Question: Can you explain the process for tabulating the annual results?

The Hawkins System requires AKC-provided electronic data that is not available until late January or early February based upon the scheduling priorities for their programmers.  I endeavor to complete my tabulations and calculations as quickly as possible. The process is programmatic and completely data-driven. Typically, final standings are completed around the second week of February.

To speed-up the dissemination of the information, a short version of the standings is posted, and I work to identify and contact at least one of the owners of each Collie finishing in the top 10 for their variety.  A brief note is sent including a hyperlink to where the standings are posted.  Simply being on this list does not constitute an invitation to the Top 10 Invitational as the CCA has some additional ownership requirements.

Question: What do you feel are the greatest attributes of the Hawkins System and what value does it provide for the Collie?

Les: A win under a well-respected breed judge should carry a far greater sense of accomplishment, pride, and recognition than a win under someone with a lesser understanding of our breed standard.  The Hawkins System was predicated on rewarding wins under true Collie experts which are more likely to occur at large specialties rather than at all-breed shows.  The Hawkins System focuses on the Collie, not the general population of purebred dogs.

 

Question: Why do you feel it is important for the Collie to have a ranking system that puts a priority on strong competition within the variety, rather than all-breed competition?

Les: The Hawkins System was designed with the intent of evaluating the show records of Collies in any given show year as a result of competition within the variety.  Points are earned for wins with bonuses for higher-level wins.  The magnitude of a win is measured by the number in competition within the variety.  The all-breed systems change the focus to be bonuses for having “defeated” dogs of other breeds with basically no impact of competition within the variety.

In the all-breed systems, variety competition is all but meaningless.  For illustration purposes, last year I calculated results for a couple of the prominent all-breed systems for both rough and smooth Collies with variety points subtracted. Only a couple dogs moved up or down a position or two, and the overall rankings were essentially unchanged.

 

Question: How would you respond to those who feel the Hawkins System should put greater emphasis on all-breed wins?

I would ask Collie fanciers, should a group placement at an all-breed greatly outweigh being awarded specialty BOV, presumably under a breeder-judge?  How many specialty wins does it take to equal the group placement?  The answer is 4-5 specialty BOVs. Should a Best in Show in Puerto Rico (442 average entry) really count more than 15 rough specialty BOVs? Or, should it be 2.4 times more valuable than CCA Smooth BOV? Those are equivalent numbers under all-breed systems.

Despite claims that a Best in Show is awarded to the dog best meeting its standard, often BIS judges aren’t licensed to judge Collies, or even the herding group.  A BIS judge may never have even read the Collie standard, let alone attended CCA Judges Education training or received breed mentoring.  As such, Collies in the BIS and even the group ring are judged more by how well they fit the unwritten universal show dog standard as opposed to our Collie Standard.

 

Question: How would you respond to those who feel the Hawkins System should be changed due to AKC updates such as Grand Championship awards (Select), Reserve Best in Shows, increased number of shows, or declining entries?

Les: Let me ask what being awarded Select really means? Select is awarded to specials competing in the Best of Variety class that were defeated by either the BOV or BOS/BOV dogs. Despite the order in which ribbons are handed out, being awarded Select Dog or Bitch is not a placement above Winners Dog, Winners Bitch, or the class entry, and therefore they are not entitled to the class entry points. Often at specialties, the WD or WB are awarded BOV or BOS/BOS, and Selects are simply awarded to defeated specials present in the show ring. There is no objective basis to determine if or when a Collie receiving Select might have been placed higher than Collies from the regular classes, let alone award points for a win that did not occur.

By rule, Reserve Best in Show is not a true reserve award. The dog placing second in the group from which the Best in Show dog came is not brought back into the ring for consideration. Like a Select, a Reserve Best in Show dog is a defeated dog and not a placement the Hawkins System is designed to reward.

Canine Chronicle provided some context on Select and RBIS awards within their all-breed ranking system. They state, “The all-breed stats are based on dogs defeated by winning Best of Breed, group placements, and Best in Shows. Points are not awarded for class wins, BOS, Select, or Reserve Best in Shows.” (https://caninechronicle.com/new-statistics/)

While it is true that the total number of Collies competing annually has been lower in recent years, this has not been established for a long enough period to declare the trend a material change.  Specialty show expansion must be considered in this conversation. The rate of expansion of specialties has exceeded the capacity for breeders and exhibitors to support those additional shows. It has also greatly outpaced the rate of increase in all-breed shows.

Also concerning is that the number of all-breed shows where no Collies competed. It has increased from less than 90 per year a few years ago to over 200 shows per year. The large increase in the number of shows with no Collies in competition contributes to the appearance of a decline.  It would appear that with the increase in specialties, many exhibitors may no longer need all-breed shows to finish their class dogs.

 

Question: What do you feel is the most misunderstood element of the Hawkins System?

Les: The Hawkins System tries to ensure that there is a proper balance between wins at specialty versus all-breed shows.  I do not have the methodology by which Bob determined the schedules for bonus points, minimums, etc., but even a small change creates an imbalance between all-breeds and specialties.  In the past, there have been major complaints that Collies whose wins were almost exclusively from all-breed wins finished too high in the rankings.  The Hawkins System does not exist to ensure (or prevent) a specific Collie from appearing in the Top 10, it simply and objectively takes the wins into account and calculates the ranking.

 

Question: What do you think are some of the most important things for Collie breeders and exhibitors to remember about the Hawkins System?

Les: First and foremost is that the Hawkins System is and always has been privately owned and is not owned by the CCA.  Among other things, this precludes manipulating the system to make changes that are incompatible with the original design and intent of the system or may be motivated by self-interests.

Unlike the large commercial operations such as Canine Chronicle and Show Sites, the Hawkins System cannot hire and compensate an IT or data entry staff.  Especially with continuing changes with the data and data formatting maintained by AKC, it is not possible to perform regular calculations of standings with the approximately 20,000 Collie entries each year. An exhibitor or owner can calculate their point accumulation using their wins, as well as their competition.

Every year there will be those that are disappointed because they did not finish as high relative to their competition or may not have finished in the top 10 for their variety. This will happen regardless of the ranking system. The solution isn’t to change the system but try to win more and larger shows.

Question: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with the readers?

Les: Both all-breed and variety-specific ranking systems have their place and value.  One is not superior or correct simply because someone’s Collie or favorite ranks higher or finishes in the top 10.  Those that focus on group competition should obviously feature the all-breed rankings in their advertising.  Those that are more concerned with the competition with and between Collies and that includes the Collie Club of America, should focus on the Hawkins System which has served the breed so well for nearly 60 years.

There has long been a concern with differing philosophical standpoints about how judging Collies should be performed.  Fault judging represents a negative basis philosophy while virtue judging is a positive basis philosophy – with the latter being considered optimal.  All-breed ranking systems are based upon a more negative philosophy of “dogs defeated” while the Hawkins System focuses on the wins awarded and the magnitude of those wins. The framework is most consistent with virtue judging.

 

Another consideration beyond the expansion of specialty shows is the migration of fall specialties to the prime spring timeframe – particularly in February and March. This dilutes entries because it is not possible to be at multiple show sites on the same weekend.  Conflicting specialty dates is not a function or problem of the ranking system.  This change has happened slowly but perhaps the fancy need to evaluate a more balanced distribution of specialty shows to achieve increased show support and entries.

Winning a large specialty in strong competition should carry a great sense of pride and accomplishment and be more significant in reward than a specialty with a small entry.  Yes, it is easier to win if there are less than 20 rough or 8 smooth Collies present.  I hear demands that such a specialty be treated as if it were one of the New England or Columbus specialties with up to 100 Collies in competition. Should the attitude really be “if something of worth is hard to do then it is hardly worth doing?”

Conclusion: Thank you, Les, for sharing your knowledge and experience with Collie ranking systems. Your years of commitment and service to the breed are appreciated.

Les: A final word from the person answering these questions.  Thank you, Matt, for taking the time and effort in trying to succinctly compile a rationale and explanation of the appropriateness of both all-breed and variety-specific ranking systems.  Also, thank you for having patience with my meandering and mumbling in responding to the questions.