03/08/2016 5:41PM

Harness: Elections held, Hall of Fame hopefuls named at USHWA meeting


The United States Harness Writers Association (USHWA), the world’s largest organization for industry communicators celebrating its 70th year of chronicling the sport through its membership, conducted its annual two days of business meetings this past weekend at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Resort in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The weekend culminated in the Sunday evening celebration of the sport’s best and brightest stars of 2015, both human and equine, at the annual Dan Patch Awards Banquet.

Per its usual two-year rotation policy, the presidency of USHWA changed – but not its strong commitment to exploring ways in which emerging social media can be utilized to solidify harness racing’s present fan base and help build towards that of its future.

Tim Bojarski, publicist at Batavia Downs, Hoof Beats columnist, and the Webmaster for the organization’s website www.ushwa.org, ascended from the first vice presidency chair to become president of USHWA, succeeding Chris Tully, the Goshen NY-based multi-media talent and chairman. Tully will become the USHWA Chairman of the Board, as the USHWA bylaws dictate, and was named a Lifetime Member of USHWA.

Shawn Wiles, the point person for all racing-related activities at Monticello Raceway, moved up to the 1st Vice Presidency position, while Kim Rinker, now directing the Ohio Sire Stakes efforts, was elected 2nd Vice President. Judy Davis-Wilson, a past president of the organization, elected not to stand for her Treasurer position after years of vital service to the group; with that, the Directors elected Barry Lefkowitz, former Roosevelt publicist and the head of USHWA’s Audit and Finance Committee, as overseer of the organization’s finances. Jerry Connors was revoted as USHWA Secretary.

The most important piece of USHWA business took place early in the two days of sessions, as Gordon Waterstone and Steve Wolf were chosen to be on the summer ballot for election to the sport’s Communicators Hall of Fame. Waterstone made his mark in his native Michigan and environs, primarily at Detroit’s Hazel Park, before becoming assistant editor at The Horseman and Fair World, and if elected will join his editor Kathy Parker as Communicators Hall members. Wolf, the Dinner Committee chairman of this year’s successful affair, was an innovative publicist and dedicated USHWAn (one of only three people to win the organization’s Member of the year twice) in his home area of New Jersey and metro Philadelphia before coming to Florida, where he ascended to the racing general manager position of Pompano Park prior to his becoming a respected media consultant for several cutting-edge harness organizations.

During the many committee reports and discussion at the USHWA meetings, the talk turned, as it does in most harness organizations in these days of consolidation, to formulating plans to continue ensuring the financial health of the organization, which performs among many others two vital functions mentioned above – the electing of Hall of Famers, and the sponsorship of the annual Dan Patch Banquet honoring the stars of the sport. Several plans and ideas were examined during the discussion sessions; incoming treasurer Lefkowitz said that initially his focus will be on increasing USHWA revenues despite the contraction of the times, as expenses usually stay within a small annual variance. He further noted that all members will need to become “contributors” to USHWA, in the workrate and communication sense to attract more interest surrounding the Dan Patch Banquet, which is USHWA’s primary source of cash influx, with new methods of fundraising efforts, still under study, no less important.

One bright note at the meetings was the announcement of an increase in USHWA membership in the past year, reversing a trend that has carried through the current consolidation period. Many communicators now have the important tool of developed social media skills in their reporting arsenal, and other avenues of using emerging media were presented and explored during a U.S. Trotting Association/USHWA co-sponsored workshop on using social media in aiding awareness of major races. David Carr, who was honored for his recent election to the Communicators Hall of Fame at the Dan Patch Banquet, joined Rob Key, who has been the point man for harness racing’s emergence in social media, and others presenting their views on how this new and important tool can best be “harnessed” to maximum effect for the sport.

With future 2016 efforts defined and assigned, the USHWA meetings ended with a look towards the group’s 2017 conclave, which may be held in Las Vegas, likely in conjunction with the USTA’s annual meetings, and possibly with the participation of other industry organizations.