They call themselves the HARD DRIVE flyball team and they are passionate about the sport and the dogs they train to compete.Seven adults and 15 canines make up the roster of one the teams participating in one of the most popular and challenging sport for dogs known throughout Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Belgium.
What makes the local team unique and noteworthy is that they are the reigning Region 15, Multi-One 2007 champions, which include Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
All but two of the Hard Drive team members are southern end residents. Eric Foster, a Boston transplant and Beth Zeiner, who currently resides in West Lawn, Pa., join Howie and Kim Zeamer (Quarryville), Andy and Kris Patzer (Holtwood) and Kim Shamberger (Quarryville).
Shamberger is credited with uniting the others in the sport of flyballing. The Delaware Valley College alumnus, who is now enrolled in an Animal Behavioral Science and Animal Psychology Master's program, was working at a Lancaster County animal training center and introduced the others to the flyball challenge. For most it became additive. "I had to take Howie kicking and screaming," said Kim Zeamer, of her husband. "He did not want to go, but after that first night he was hooked. He came back and started building hurdles and setting out a course."
Foster, Shamberger's significant other, had an equally magnetic experience. "I didn't grow up with dogs or pets, but when I saw what Kim and the others were involved in, I said to myself, I've got to get a dog."
Andy and Kris Patzer also experienced a high after being introduced to the sport. "It's not for money or medals," said Andy. "It's the camaraderie, the excitement, the challenge and it's great exercise for the dogs."
The team attempts to practice once a week throughout the year with the dogs as a team and admits that time is the greatest expense, as all work with their individual dog or dogs daily.
Flyball, a relay race for dogs, was first introduced in California in the late 70's. It became so popular that in the late 80's the North American
Flyball Association was created. There are currently 21 regions throughout Canada and the states.
The game involves a team of four dogs who attempt to clear four hurdles spaced 10-feet apart with the first hurdle placed six feet beyond the starting line and the last hurdle 15-feet prior to the spring box. Each dog must activate the spring-loaded flybox, which releases a tennis ball. The dog must catch and return to the starting line reversing it's course over the hurdles a second time. The overall course is 102-feet from start to finish. Handlers attempt to time their dog's release so that the dog about to finish and the dog being released hit the mark almost simultaneously. Hurdles are adjusted to a height that is four-inches below that of the team's smallest dog's shoulder, usually a minimum of seven inches or a maximum of 15.
The Border Collie is the most popular breed used in competition with the mixed breed the second most popular. Team Hard Drive has a combination of both purebred and mix. Kris Patzer handles Sprinter, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, while her husband Andy takes charge over Streaker, a Border Collie/Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix. Shamberger's Nike is also a BC/SBT mix, while Foster's Addy is a mix, Border Collie/Cattle Dog.
Zeiner's Olive is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, while Howie Zeamer handles Denzel, a Jack Russell Terrier and wife, Kim lays claim to Gracie, a Border Collie/Jack Russell Terrier.
Many of the dogs are rescued canines and Patzer said flyballing has given some of those dogs life. "We got several obedience school rejects," said Patzer. "You have to be aware that some dogs aren't suited for this sport. Dogs must show some interest or the training is pointless."
Patzer went on to say that with puppies you can build a foundation and as early as 10-weeks introduce them to the basics of the game.
A team out of Michigan holds the current record, of 15.43-seconds, set in 2004, and three of the local dogs have come from their bloodlines. "You want a dog that can run the course in sub-four seconds," said Patzer. "Three of our dogs, Nike, Sprinter and Streaker are there. We're currently averaging around 17.2-seconds and have set a goal of being in the 16-second range."
Travel is an equally challenging expense and for the Patzers and Zeamers both found that the way to go was RV. "It so difficult to find hotels or motels that will accommodate dogs, "said Kris Patzer. "I don't like to camp," added Kim Zeamer, "But Kris is correct. It's the only way to go."
The team is planning for their next long distance competition, which will be held in Montreal, the first visit to that city for all team members.
"We want to go to Nationals in Arizona," said Kim Zeamer. "Our season runs from Oct. 2008 through Sept. 2009. Going west will be neat."
To check out more of this popular canine sport visit the NAFB website. If you check out their video link, you may recognize some familiar faces, perhaps some you've seen at Lapp's Family Restaurant. "Yeah, often the team meets there for breakfast before we move on to competition," said Kim Zeamer.
Flyballing has its appeal to those who love dogs and competition and for the Hard Drive team there is no greater joy. "It really is additive," repeated Kim Zeamer. "We all love it."