Sunday, September 17, 2023

Petit 'has a question' for the Willow 300 board, others speak

Nicolas Petit at the Iditarod Picnic.
Iditarod Headquarters. Wasilla, AK. 2023
Things are still very muddled after news broke this weekend that the Willow 300 had several board members announce they were leaving the board effective immediately due to the race "not going in the direction that aligns with our moral and values". As the comments poured in it became clear that the somewhat vague announcement was going to need more explaining. Mushers began asking questions, the board members who once were willing to let all questions flow through just one of them spoke up.

While those not in the know wanted to know more, it wasn't until Nicolas Petit asked questions publicly that they were answered publicly. Those that wrote to the resigned board members earlier in the weekend were essentially told that it had to do with "transparency". Some worried that the values and moral concerns had something to do with dog care, but when Nicolas Petit - the 2023 Willow 300 champion - entered the conversation it was made a tad more clear.

"Ok so Here’s my question…" Nic's post began. "For months now I’ve been trying to have the race reissue my check for this year’s first place prize." Petit's post noted that he had been irresponsible and misplaced the check for his winnings from this year's race. He gave a quick explanation of how he contacted race organizers asking for them to reissue. "At the time I was told “no problem but we on vacation so we’ll send it out when we get home”. I don’t want to nag people so I let time go by as I checked my mail box occasionally."

Nic does not give an exact timeline on how long he waited, however the Willow 300 runs in January, and we're now in Mid September. Petit reported that he did try contacting organizers again via facebook messenger and he was told that he would not be able to get his check until November because "they" were once again out of town. 

No one has named who is still in charge of the race. The website has not been updated with a revised list of Board of Directors. Of the website's list, if it is accurate, four out of the eight members are no longer members - if it's accurate as to who holds what title. 

Resigned member Juliah DeLoach responded to comments accusing those that resigned as being full of ego. "I just came on board in spring then we didn’t have meetings that I was aware of for a few months," DeLoach shared. "The bylaws were requested at the August meeting. It took until last week to get those from the directors. No one on the board knew the situation we were in when we attended the spring meeting and accepted nomination."

That new board members were not provided with bylaws, policies, and expectations at their initial join meeting is a tad odd for non-profits. Most organization give out some sort of "welcome packet" with all the necessary information and paperwork. Still, this is mushing, and in a sport where the champions misplace their winning checks, it should come as no surprise that things aren't done "normally". However, that several board members noted and commented on these issues and were essentially ignored as DeLoach's comments would suggest, is not a good sign.

Casey Randall who resigned as vice president earlier this year for similar reasons also took to the comments to explain frustrations. " There are a lot of great people, including all of the people who resigned tonight, who wanted to make this race awesome. If this is what is needed to make a better future race, then let’s work toward the future!" Randall has now turned her attention to the Willow Jr 100, which is a race separate from the 300/150 races with its own board and trail.

Randall, DeLoach, and others all brought up the fact that "transparency is key" to a successful board. At the core, that seems to be what the resignation is about - these members do not believe that those in charge are being forthcoming with the goings on of the race and its organization.

DeLoach responded to Nic saying that the board members who resigned want to see him paid and paid in a timely manner. Mushers who reached out to Karin Hendrickson in the hours after the original announcement (to which Karin posted all questions needed to come to her) reported that all they were told was that there was concern about transparency and to not plan on running a Willow 300/150 this year.

For Petit, he didn't want to see his questions used to further divide an already divided race. " I’d like to know what I’m supposed to do about this without causing any more trouble to the race. Thank you," the musher wrote, then continued "Also Thank you to all who have made this race great".

Ship Creek Lodge remained silent this weekend on the goings on with the race, but by all reports is still unwilling to be the meeting place or finish line for the 2024 race.

Juliah DeLoach added one final comment to those coming down harshly on the news. "Someone else stated that by so many resigning it makes dog mushing and racing look bad. We are trying to represent our sport by being good role models," she wrote. "We had no other course of action available."

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Willow 300 board of directors implodes

The headline may be a bit of hyperbole, but the fact is that as of tonight - September 13, 2023 - there has been a massive upheaval with the board of directors of the Willow 300 sled dog race. Several members of the board and volunteer staff posted on the race's Facebook Page announcing their departure, as well as the departure of main sponsor and race host Sheep Creek Lodge. The announcement created a slurry of comments by fans and mushers, many of whom seemed to be taken completely off guard by the announcement.

"The current board of the Willow 300 Sled Dog Race 2023 is not going in the direction that aligns with our moral and values," the Facebook announcement stated. "Therefore Secretary Karin Hendrickson, Member at Large Melinda Crawford, Sponsorship and Volunteer Coordinator Catrina Mathis, membership Coordinator Marianne Schoppmeyer, and Member at Large Julia DeLoach all resign. Sheep Creek Lodge also withdraws all support as race headquarters and finish."

Karin Hendrickson, retired Iditarod musher and (now) former board secretary quickly took to her personal Facebook page to share the race's post stating that if any mushers had questions they could message her. Several mushers commented on the posts with concern and sadness as the Willow 300 in a well loved race by many in the sport.

Known for its well marked trails and strong purse. The Willow 300 came about in 2016 to fill the void left by several long time mid-distance races ending. The Willow 300 managed to run even in poor snow years that saw other races in its general area cancel or move. Sheep Creek Lodge provided logistics for the race as well as a finish line and housing for handlers. Now all of that seems to be over in less than ten years, and it's left fans and participants wondering why.

This is a developing story.