Area teen sets record at spaniel contest

An 18-year-old Connor Wharton went up against the best and came out on top.

The Altoona teen, who is now 19, is the youngest competitor ever to win the

National Amateur English Springer Spaniel Championship.

The 2013 sporting competition held in Wilmington, Ohio, wasn’t the St. Francis University student’s first.

He has competed on the national level for several years, said his dad, Greg Wharton, who is a member of the Mid-Penn English Springer Spaniel club, which holds field trials in Sinking Valley, and sits on the board of governors for the English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association.

Connor is also a member of the national organization and the Mid-Penn club, along with his older brother Spencer, 22, who also competes and owns the dog, Marshal, that won the 51st championship with Connor as the handler.

To qualify for the event, a competitor must place regionally. The Mid-Penn club holds trials annually in the spring and fall, Greg said.

“It really is a means of giving our membership a chance to compete and we get participants from literally all over the northeast and even the midwest,” he said.

“We get a pretty good turnout there, depending on our weather situation. This past spring was pretty rough because we had so much snow, but this fall … there will be six different events in Sinking Valley for the spaniel clubs.”

Connor competed against other members of regional clubs from across the United States in the national competition.

“You’re dealing with a lot of experienced dog people who have competed in this thing, some for 25 and 30 years actually,” and the event brings out “the best of the best dogs in the country,” Greg said.

To compete means “training [the dog], being able to read the dog, how to teach them. Every dog’s different, you have to know how to teach different, just like a kid really,” Connor said.

The competition involves the dog finding birds, flushing them out and retrieving the birds after a hunter shoots them. The dogs are evaluated on pace, style and nose, among other distinctions, Greg said.

The dogs are run five times and must do a water retrieval during the days-long competition, said Dean Reinke, Purina Pro Club area manager for the professional engagement team.

Reinke is also one of Connor’s mentors, Greg said.

“He let that dog run and he put him right where he had to. When he got done, there wasn’t much confusion on anybody’s part who had won that. He just went out and took it by storm. It was pretty emotional watching him run the dog,” Reinke said.

The proud father also said his son’s triumph was emotional.

He “just seems to have a knack for the game,” Greg said.

While competing in regional events, points accumulate and two years ago Connor’s dog reached the highest-point status.

Connor lost a dog to a bacteria early on in his attempts at the national competition level, Greg said.

“It was almost like he made a pact with himself that in her memory he was going to be successful in this thing,” he said. “That was pretty cool that he worked his way through that.”

Greg’s involvement with the game goes back to 1992. He got the boys involved when they were about 3 or 4 years old.

“It was definitely a good accomplishment. My mom, my dad and my uncle and a bunch of friends were there so it was good timing. It was a good time to win, with everybody there,” Connor said.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.