Mention national champions, and area sports fans are apt to start listing the myriad football, baseball and basketball players from this region.
But William Henry (Billy) Beazell, whose success with bird dogs and field trials came a century ago, may have preceded those outstanding athletes from the major sports who gained national honors one way or another.
Just ask Joe Kormuth.
"Billy became very famous in his day but is probably not remembered by more than a handful of people from the Valley," Kormuth, of Twilight, said. "His fame was derived from a lifetime of activity with bird dogs, especially in field trial competition across the country.
"He was highly respected as an owner, handler, breeder and judge and was very instrumental in the sport gaining popularity and success across the United States."
Kormuth, 70, knows well of what he speaks when it comes to Beazell, bird dogs and field trials.
He authored a detailed history of Beazell's life that was published in The American Field, a national magazine based in Chicago and devoted to bird dog field trial competition.
He also maintains field trial records beginning in 1874 as well as breeding records for all bird dog breeds since that time. In addition, Kormuth was a handler and competed in field trials with his dogs for more than 30 years in this region.
"It's something I became interested in at a very early age," Kormuth, a 1957 graduate of Charleroi High School, said of his passion for the sport. "The history of field trials is fascinating and filled with stories about men like Billy Beazell and the marvelous dogs they owned, trained and loved."
Beazell was born in Carroll Township in 1865 but grew up in a large family in the Rostraver Township village of Webster in a home located where the Webster Boat Club now stands.
"His father was an engineer, and Bill was sent to college to become a pharmacist," Kormuth, who retired after a 43 year career as a chemist in the nuclear power industry, said. "After graduation, he worked as a pharmacist in Homestead for a number of years."
But Beazell decided to change the course of his life and moved south to become a full-time bird dog trainer and handler for clients competing with their dogs across the country in major field trial competition. In 1897 he owned an English setter which competed in the National Championship but the animal was handled by someone else.
"His reputation grew and in 1912 he was invited to be one of the three judges in the National Championship, a huge honor for a young man of 47," Kormuth said. …