Frank Phillips, USA IGP National Champion
This blog post is about Frank Phillips. In 2021 he will be the Judge for obedience phase at the WUSV IGP World Championship and will be a competitor at the FMBB IGP World Championship with his dog Ender.
In my travels to photograph IGP championships, there are familiar faces that I see frequently. The ranks of Judges and helpers selected for a Regional or National Championships are a small, distinguished group. The same can be said for competitors, within each dog breed there a relatively small group of people that compete consistently at the top of the sport. I would say that on average that 2/3 of all competitors in a National are the same handlers, with only a 1/3 or less first timers who often will make only one appearance. I am one of only a few people on the field with them whey they perform, in sharing there experience it helps to form relationship. We see each other at various places across the country, so it is only natural that I get to know them in a way that that is more than passing acquaintance. I photograph their triumphs as well as their heartbreaks on the field and as I review the images for selection, I feel their emotions. I have shared beers and pizzas in the parking lots of too many event host hotels to remember. It is at these candid moments that sometimes I get to know the stories of some of the personalities of the sport that often affect and compel me to share their stories. And so it is that I write this in a series of profiles of the personalities in IGP. In this blog we meet Frank Phillips.
Frank Phillips is a stand out in IGP in the United States. There are only a few American competitors that have stood on the podium of a IGP World Championship. While I don’t have the exact number, I would dare say less than a dozen. Frank has done so twice. But this achievement alone is not why he stands out for me. It is his incredible thirst for the sport that and his drive to perform at this best while branching out into areas of the sport that beyond those he has already mastered. Following are a few of Franks achievements:
Frank and Kliff at the 2018 WUSV World Championship. Protection phase with front half helper Martin Knudsen. Randers, Denmark.
Frank easily makes it on my secret list of top judges. My criteria may be familiar and odd at the same time. Familiar in that like everyone else, I appreciate consistent scoring. Frank is one of the most consistent I have ever witnessed. He sees everything and he never suggests an ability to see what is not visible (this happens more than I would like to say). His recall of what happened in an exercise is uncanny. I will often refer to the play back on my camera to see what happened and it has never deviated from what Frank calls. He is unwaveringly honest and direct which not the easiest critique to hear but often the most helpful. He is an expert on the rules as one would expect of a Judge but is also unbiased and fair. Now for what some might consider an odd reasons to make a Judge a favorite. Understand that this is from the photographer: He is very precise in his location for each exercise. He will wear down the grass with the consistency in movement on the field that that he does for each exercise. It is always best location to see the exercise. I know this because they are also my best angles to catch the action! So why do I love that he does this you may ask? Because he is consistent. I know where he is going to be and so I take an alternative position and I get great shots when he is on the field. He does not wander around like he is lost. He is in tight on the action and consistent. I can tell you even at world level events the judges can be at random places for exercises. As an example on long bites I have seen judges close to the center line at mid field for one dog, then back near blind 6 for another, which inevitably will lead to blocked shots because I have no idea where they will be and by the time the I see the Judge they are already in my frame (photo bombers). Frank is always in the same position. When I see Frank listed as a judge for an event it is a very good thing for the photographer.
USCA Judges Vadim Plotsker and Frank Phillips watch as Ezzard strips the sleeve from helper in the back half protection at the 2016 USCA Southwestern Regional IPO Championship in Pahrump, Nevada.
USCA Judge Frank Phillips fast footwork to get view of the grip Umbra vom Nordenstamm on Dominic Scarberry
Now let's shift to Frank as an IGP competitor. Frank is the definition of a true sportsman. His background as a pro level racquetball player in his younger days may have something to do with this, but I tend to think it has more to do with Franks character. Despite impressive dog sport accomplishments, he is always humble. In a judged sport that involves one’s dog there is the potential for extreme emotions. It is not unusual to hear disgruntled comments out of competitors who, in the heat of the moment, may verbalize their emotionally charged opinions or cast blame on others. I take this with a grain of salt, we are all human. But Frank always owns his performances. He holds himself and his program accountable. He understands the often unrealistic expectations placed on the helpers and judges. A telling symbol of his sportsmanship as a handler and philosophy in general is how he will always remove his hat during the critique. He respects the judge no matter what. It is almost a trademark of his and a great example for those new to the sport.
Hat off for the critique, actions of a competitor with class. Frank & Kliff at the 2018 USCA GSD National IPO Championship in Pittsburgh, PA. They earned 2nd Place.
While as an IGP judge and competitor he may have earned my respect, it is his love for his dogs and his relationship that he shares with them that earns my maximum admiration. Anyone who saw Frank compete with Kliff got to see a perfect example of the potential of a teams relationship when dog and handler are both immensely capable but also have 100% connection. Together they won a National Championship and placed second place twice at the FCI World Championship. This team was simply stunning and their performances would literally take your breath away. And to cap it off, when you would see them interact off the field, their tenderness would melt your heart.
Kliff tragically died at the peak of his career in a freak accident. Frank was gutted and took time off from dog sport to let his heart heal. The loss was devastating and the news was taken hard by many in the sport. It was more than the loss of an amazing creature, it was the loss of this pairing and how they inspired so many in the sport. I did not see Frank on the field for a time after that and I understood why. I think most would not be able to ever come back on the field after going through what he did.
Frank Phillips & Kliff vom Floyd Haus showing the connection that was legendary at the 2018 USCA GSD National IPO Championship in Pittsburgh, PA.
Frank told me that one of the things that helped him through the dark period after Kliff passed was his dog named Ender. Ender is Franks first Malinois, a young dog, that didn't get to go with Frank and Kliff on their adventures to far away places. As Frank was giving his heart time to heal, Ender would come in quietly lay at his feet while Frank was working at his desk. Ender gave Frank space and gradually the companionship when Frank needed it most. It made my heart smile to see Frank return to compete at the 2019 AWMA Championship and then the 2020 FMBB Qualifier as a competitor with Ender. I will not lie, my eyes swelled as they took the field again and I tried to imagine the courage needed to do what he was doing. I don’t know if I would have had it. But it is exactly this type of character that heroes are made from. Frank and Ender finished on the podium at the FMBB qualifier earlier this month and a smile had come back to Franks face.
Frank returning to national competition after a year lay off at the 2019 AWMA National Championship in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. FCI Judge Alfons van den Bosch.
Frank and Ender at the 2019 AWMA National Championship in Old Orchard, Maine.
In earning the spot on the USA roster to the 2021 FMBB World Championship in Greece Frank will be one of only a dozen or so Americans to make it to a World Championship with different breeds. An extraordinary achievement that speaks volumes about his ability to adapt his training to the dog he is working with.
No one achieves anything of significance in Dog Sport without the help of others. Frank credits his early mentors Dave Wood and Brian McNulty who help him understand protection drives. He explored training ideas outside the ranks of IGP to gain insight into AKC obedience. These training ideas influence him to this day. Along the way, he was influenced by some big names in the sport including Deb Zappia, Mike Diehl, T. Floyd, Ivan Balabanov, Dave Kroyer, Mark Natinsky, Sean O’Kane and Jim Alloway. Frank also gives a lot of credit to his club and his training partner and helper Vadim Plotsker who he relies on for training plans.
Frank believes important changes in the last 10 years involve the emphasis for a dog looking like it’s free and enjoying the work with their handler. This portrays a much nice picture and makes obedience a satisfying phase to watch and judge. He is also encouraged with the recent prioritizing of a dogs power to earn V scores (Excellent categories).
I asked Frank for advice for a person new to IGP. He answered “Don’t give up! If you are not in a place where you enjoy training, then leave and find a new place to train. There are many ways to train, many people to train with, sometimes it will require more effort/work/travel from you but it is all worth it. When you find a place to train that fits you and you fit there, it’s a ton of fun…. But always remember if it’s important to you, you will find a way….if it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.”
Frank Phillips is a stand out character in the sport of IGP in the United States. Whether you the to see him judge or compete in an event, you will be treated to a quality performance.
Frank Phillips & Hostile enjoying the anticipation seconds before the obedience phase of the 2015 AWDF Championship in Farmington, MO.
Frank Phillips protection judge at the 2018 USCA WDC in Buffalo, New York. Smiling despite 4-days of non stop rain.
Frank and Ender reporting out protection phase at the 2019 AWMA National Championship. Old Orchard Beach, Maine.
December 2020 FMBB Qualification Trial in Nashville, TN. Frank and Ender on podium and a place on the USA FMBB Team in 2021.
Frank & Ender obedience phase at the 2020 FMBB Qualification Trial in Nashville, TN.
Frank Phillips with hat off for the critique at he 2017 WUSV IPO World Championship in Tilburg, NL.
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