Dogs have their day in Utah |

Dogs have their day in Utah

Tracie Fails, Contributing writer

A trip to the principal’s office usually means punishment for bad behavior in grade school. But for three students at Ecker Hill International Middle School, a call to principal Gregory Proffit’s office last month resulted in an unexpected reward for community service and the opportunity to participate in a world-renowned sporting event.

After volunteering at the International Pedigree Stage Stop Dog Sled Race (IPSSDSR) last year, seventh graders Micheleigh Schori, Evan Fleming and Andrew Kunz learned that they would participate in the second annual Junior Musher race held after the main event Saturday at the Rail Trail in Prospector Square. Daniel Surfass and Randy Felter were also selected, but could not attend the race.

Fleming said that Proffit chose the students after no one entered a contest to apply for the opportunity. "There was supposed to be an essay, but we were just chosen because we did community service," Fleming said. Aside from volunteering with the IPSSDSR, Fleming also helps teachers at Parley’s Park Elementary School to organize activities for other kids. Kunz donates his time by playing with the school orchestra for senior citizens and Schori volunteers at an animal clinic. Fleming said he was excited to try mushing even though he had no previous experience with the sport. "I love dogs, so it’s fun to be around them and learn how they race."

The IPSSDSR is the largest musher race in the lower 48 states and features some of the world’s best racers. For many, the event served as a precursor to Alaska’s famous Iditarod, which will be held this year on March 3. Spanning 450 miles, the IPSSDSR covers eight stages in a weeklong trek from Jackson, Wyo. to Park City. The "Stop Stage" format allows the teams to stop after each leg in a new city, where residents show their hospitality with dog-related festivals, kids’ races and fireworks. Park City greeted finishers with hearty folk music, banners, and a small, but enthusiastic crowd. Until a few years ago, the IPSSDSR circled back to Wyoming where the race began. Coordinator Paul Knopf, a resident of Wyoming, convinced race director Frank Teasley that Park City was the perfect place to end the race. Knopf, who also coordinates the Junior Musher race, said he was pleased with its second year. Still in the stages of development, the kids’ race included an unscored four-mile trek on the Rail Trail followed by instruction on how to care for the race dogs. "The kids raced at the golf course [on Park Avenue] a couple years ago, and it just didn’t seem part of the main event," Knopf said. After axing the event last year, they gave it another try as a tie-in with the main event. "It was nice to have everything here all at the same time."

Each of the 17 master mushers served as a mentor to the junior racers, most of whom had no experience with mushing. The kids spent an hour with the master racers before the run in training. Schori said the run was less intense than she expected, but that she enjoyed learning about mushing. "Everyone said I’d go so fast, but I didn’t really get going," she said. "But I liked learning how to take care of them." Schori was mentored by race winner Wendy Davis, who said she was excited about her role in the junior race.

"It’s always fun to pass along knowledge of the sport and see kids get excited about it," she said. Davis, who has raced dogs since 2000, finished fourth last year. This year, she beat runner-up Jacque Philip of France in a landslide, posting a time of 23:41:28 to Philip’s 25:01:02. It was the third time in a row that the Frenchman had to settle for second, and just the second time in the event’s 12-year history that a woman claimed the crown. Third place went to Grant Beck of the Northwest Territories in Canada, followed by Iditerod veteran Sam Perrino, also of the Northwest Territories. Last year’s winner, Melanie Shirilla, finished fifth.

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