PEKIN — Marshall Stoner spent 30 years of his life coaching boys basketball at Pekin Community High School, but a little known fact about Stoner is his love of great danes.

Stoner’s love of the breed started many years ago. He and his wife, June, owned great danes for 30 years while he coached and for the past 30 or so years since he retired. 

The dream of a lifetime came true for Stoner on Tuesday when one of the dogs he bred, George, won Best of Breed in the 141st Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at the Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. 

George is a 4-year-old fawn great dane. Stoner’s partner in the business, Lost Creek Great Danes, is Karen McCance. 

George’s AKC name is Best in Show Champion Gracyn N’ Lost Creek’s Descendent of Elan. His sire is Gable, sire of more than 100 champions, and Esther is his mother, who has given birth to 12 champions.

While Stoner bred George, he is owned by Jon and Sue Fink. His handlers are John and Jessie Gerszewski.

The competitive nature associated with being a basketball coach fed well into his career as a dog breeder and shower.

“I always had in the back of my mind that when I stopped coaching that I would get real serious about the breeding and exhibiting great danes,” said Stoner. “So, when that occurred 30 years ago, we became very serious and got into the business of breeding and exhibiting.

“(The coaching career) helped me in terms of the competitive aspect of it. As a coach, I guess I’ve been accused of being a bit competitive and so when you have that behind you, you do your best as far as being able to present. In the dog showing part of it, (you put) out there the best possible exhibit that you can come up with. And of course, yes, there is training, etc., and there is knowledge of the judges just like in coaching there is knowledge of the officials. In coaching you’ve got to deal with the officials and in dog showing you’ve got to deal with the judges.”

Stoner said the Westminster is “kind of like the World Series of dog showing.” 

This was his first win at Westminster, but George has competed well and has won The Great Dane Club of America National Show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, defeating 600 other great danes for top honors. George is the No. 1 great dane in the nation. In competitions, points are given and the great dane with the top number of points is named No. 1 in the nation for the year. George also won the Great Dane of America Top 20 Show in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in October 2015.

Competitions also include written standards on which the judge bases scoring. 

George was “pretty close to being faultless (at Westminster), but there’s no such thing as a perfect and faultless dog. But he’s pretty good. He weighs 199 pounds and yet with all that size, he just floats around the ring.”

Stoner’s affinity for great danes is hard to explain.

“I don’t know — it’s just something that kind of goes off in your head,” he said. “I’ve always liked the look of them.

“They are large and muscular and athletic. It’s just a breed that grabbed a hold of my heart really early in my life. We’ve had them for 60 years and we’ve been doing it seriously for 30 of those 60 years. ... Great danes, I would say, are in the top 10 or so (in popularity). (Winning Westminster) just competed a bucket list that very few people do. It’s a rare occasion that a dog has the kind of year that George has had. The top award as far as I’m concerned is winning the Great Dane Cup of America in Tulsa and then being the number one great dane. This was just frosting on the cake, as far as Westminster was concerned.”

Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin