For someone who grew up around dogs and still has them in her life, SportsCenter anchor Antonietta “Toni’ Collins’ new assignment is a perfect fit.
Collins will be host and reporter for ESPN’s telecasts of American Kennel Club (AKC) events for the rest of the year, starting this weekend in Tulsa, Okla., with the AKC National Agility Championship. Live coverage of the event’s finals will stream on the ESPN App starting at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, March 28, with a telecast of event, highlights airing on ESPN2 on Wednesday, March 31, at 8 p.m.
ESPN and the AKC entered into a multi-year agreement late last year for ESPN to televise and stream a series of AKC-sanctioned dog competitions.
Collins will welcome viewers to the agility competition telecast. And while Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, and All-American Dogs and their handlers are running around the agility courses at blazing speeds, she will report from the floor, interviewing winning handlers (and their dogs) and bringing viewers behind-the-scenes.
“Reporting was where I started as a journalist and I enjoy being able to tell people’s stories,” she said.
It’s a fitting assignment for Collins, who has a rescue dog named Nolan Ryan at home.
“It’s like a dream come true,” she said. “My old roommate, Alexis Nunes [ESPN FC commentator], and I had three dogs, and prior to that at home in Miami we had three rescue dogs, and I’ve always been surrounded by doggies and animals.
“I’ve always lived with the mentality that you can be the voice for those that don’t have one,” she said. “I grew up with rescue dogs and volunteering for rescue organizations – it’s always been part of my DNA and part of my life.”
Preparation for her work this weekend has given her a new level of respect for what she has watched on TV for years.
“Everything that goes on behind the scenes to train the dogs,” she said. “The relationship and bond between trainer and athlete. It’s insane what these dogs can do. It’s just unbelievable. I call them athletes because they are athletes.”
Collins said she also has enjoyed learning about a different sport than what she usually reports on for SportsCenter.
“We’re so used to college basketball and baseball and NFL and the vernacular with that, so now I’m getting used to the vocabulary that’s correct for dog sports,” she said. “It’s resetting the CPU [Central Processing Unit, the brain], which is fun. But I’m a nerd, so I love it.
“The AKC has been so good to me with sending me information and has been so helpful about answering questions. I’m really excited.”