The year was 1986. Ronald Reagan was in his 2nd term, a first class stamp was 22 cents, we were all mourning the loss of the Challenger and her crew, Chernobyl had been evacuated and 100s were dead or dying, and the Supreme Court was reaffirming abortion rights.
The Chicago Bears were Super Bowl Champions and the N.Y. Mets were on their way to a World Series Championship. Steve Winwood and Paul Simon were winning Grammy's, Dionne and Friends were at the top of charts with That's What Friends Are For and Fox was becoming the fourth television network.
L.A. Law, Moonlighting, Cagney and Lacey, Cheers, and Magnum P.I. were big hits on television, while on the big screen Platoon won the Oscar for Best Picture. And, I was entering my first ever Frisbee Dog competition.
In mid 1985 I had decided that I wanted a dog and stumbled across a book by Karen Pryor, How to Teach Your Dog to Play Frisbee. This book (out of print) was an outstanding training manual and mentioned a number of breeeds that excelled in the sport. The book also offered a mailing address to the Ashley Whippet Invitational along with the phone number to a place to buy Frisbees.
Up to this point my only exposure to Frisbee dogs was in the mid to late 70's with a family pet
named Rusty. Rusty was a very cool little Cattle Dog that loved the Frisbee. But at the time it never occurred to me that there might be such a thing as Frisbee Dog Competition.
Well, finally in November of 1985 I found a cute little Border Collie puppy. Together Flash and I started down an amazing path that has filled my life with a wealth of wonderful moments, memories, and enduring friendships.
In 1986 no one showed up at the competitions I attended with tents for shade, kennels for their dogs or ice chests full of sport drinks or store bought bottled water. In those days if you were hot you usually had to look around for a shade tree to camp under, and if you were thirsty there always seemed to be someone around with a healthy and
sometimes unhealthy supply of cold beer. I don??t remember anyone using a van for dog and equipment transport and of course at that time no one knew what an SUV was. For a number of years I could have gotten to any competition I entered in a two seat sports car. Also in 1986 no one
owned or needed a vaulting vest.
The AWI community throw and catch competitions took place on a 17 yard circle and the maximum distance in the regional mini-distance event was 30 yards.
There was interesting admonition in this year's guidelines that stated - Male dogs should compete first to avoid distractions.
The Regional competitions were four round events with semifinals occurring at a local park and the finals taking place as a pre-game activity at a professional baseball or football game. In 1986 the World Championship Finals took place prior to the Washington Redskins game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. The preliminary rounds occurred earlier in the day on the grounds of the Smithsonian Mall.
criteria has changed over the years.
The following is the freestyle
judging criteria from the 1986 Ashley Whippet guidelines:
demonstrated ability by the dog/owner to perform crowd-pleasing,
unique, novel or even trend setting aerobatics, (starting or ending
with disc in flight), requiring a high degree of ingenuity, teamwork
and precision timing.
The degree of consistency with
which dog catches routine throws and makes the extra effort to complete
difficult catches, even if not always successful. (emphasis added by
- Leaping Ability
Throws by the owner in a manner ideally
suited to showcases the dog's ability to make exciting and even
spectacular mid-air catches vertically and horizontally, with a degree
of consistency, style and grace.
- Degree of Difficulty
demonstrated ability by the owner to challenge the dog with throws that
have different spins and angles, at varied distance, skip flights off
the ground, as well as throws where dog does not have eye contact
before release, but is consistently at the right place at the right
time to make the catch.
At this time the AWI had seven Regional Finals. They included the Mid-Central, Mid-Atlantic, Far West, Southwest, Midwest, North Central, and the Southeast.
There was something else occurring in 1986 – an attempt to level the playing field. From the 1986 Ashley Whippet Guidelines:
Note: In order to balance the experience factor gained by those contestants who have made it to the World Finals in previous years, and thus provide more of equal opportunity to others, a compensatory system was established, as follows:
Any thrower/dog team which previously competed at World Finals will start Round 3 minus 1 point. If a former World Finalist competes with a new dog at Regional Finals, the team will start Round 3 minus 1 point.
Any previous World Finalist team will start minus 1/2 Point for each year competed.
Any previous World Finalist thrower with a new dog will start minus 1/2 point for each year competed.
Any previous World Champion team starts minus an additional 1 Point.
the World Finals, judges may, at their discretion, award a maximum of
Two Bonus Points for the contestant(s) with the most spectacular
This was also the year that Ron Ellis
came up with the original and truly unique idea of starting a local
club comprised of people who enjoyed playing Frisbee with their dogs. A
club where anyone and everyone could come together with their dogs for
the camaraderie and chance to share, learn and grow. A wonderful and
distinctive idea that has transformed our sport.
1988 the Ashley Whippet Guidelines replaced Leaping Ability with
Agility and the categories had simply become Showmanship and Agility
and Difficulty and Execution. Scoring was still based on 10 points per
category with 40 points possible.
In addition, the compensatory system
added the following text:
The maximum number of Points deducted for being a previous World Champion or World Finalist will be 3?? points.
The bonus point system had also been changed. According to the 1988 AWI Guidelines:
World Finals, judges may, at their discretion, award up to Two Bonus
Points for the dog with the most spectacular performance in Freeflight
rounds; and make a similar award for the most innovative Freeflight
Order of finish for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in each category may, at judges option, earn bonus points for World Finalist.
The World Finals were held at Walt Disney World in Florida.
by 1988 the there had become only six regional qualifier events rather
than the seven in place in 1986, and the stadium finals had become a
post-finals exhibition with the Regional Champion and Runner-up being
invited to perform with the Cycle Celebrity Team.
Also, by this year everyone seemed to have discovered the vault and numerous variations and styles were sweeping the country.
Vault: It is still debated who first conceived, envisioned, and
executed the first true vault. But my money would have to be on Ron
Ellis. The Statue of Liberty move (a modified leg vault to a take as
well as an over the back or off the back take) had been around for a
number of years and variations were used in competition by Bill Murphy,
Pepper Nichols, Peter Bloeme, and others. Then a grainy photograph was
published a 1986 or 1987 issue of the K-9 Disc Master newsletter of Ron
Ellis, with his dog Maggie doing a true back vault. In late '86 or
early '87 I was at the park with Ron and Maggie and as Ron explained
his idea for this new trick I stood there and told him that even if it
worked the timing would be impossible. We had both been doing over the
back takes, but this idea was radical. I stood and watched in amazement
as the back vault was born.
the sport without an official sponsor, but thanks to Irv Lander??s
tireless efforts and financial contributions the AWI had a successful
year capped off with a World Finals held at the State Fair of Texas.
was also the year that Jeff Perry and his awesome dog Gilbert put on
spectacular and vaultless routine and in the process put a big
exclamation point on the false belief that vaulting was now a necessary
component of any World Championship team.
the time 1990 rolled around the equal opportunity/compensatory system
had been dropped from the AWI Guidelines as well as the Post-Finals
There was also a new sponsor onboard – Come ??N Get It had stepped in as the official AWI sponsor.
official AWI sponsor had become Friskies Come 'N Get It.
Mini-Distance field was lengthened to 40 yards and for the first time
we found a word of caution in the AWI Guidelines regarding the use of vaults.
The 17 yard circle used in community events had been eliminated in favor of a rectangular field.
As the sport matured so did the judging criteria.
The following is the judging guidelines from 1992.
Degree of Difficulty
demonstrated ability by dog and thrower to effectively perform
attempted throws/catches of a non-routine nature with consistency. This
includes high-risk maneuvers, throws with varied spins, and catches
where dog does not have eye contact with thrower and still succeeds;
even where second or third effort is required.
smooth completion of maneuvers in routine which emphasizes teamwork in
the progression of throws and catches; particularly where they are of a
non-routine nature. The judges look for quality here, not necessarily
the number of catches made or not made.
A consistency of throws and catches, with the disc in-flight, that showcase the dog??s style and grace in motion.
The use of vaults, while highly entertaining and often spectacular,
should be tempered with consideration for the animal??s welfare.
Excessive heights, or frequent repetitions of vaults, which employ the
thrower??s body as a launching pad, will not increase the possibility
of a higher score.
ability by the dog/owner team to perform unique, novel or even
trend-setting disc-in-flight maneuvers (starting or ending with the
disc in flight) requiring a high degree of ingenuity, teamwork and
Bonus Points: Judges may at their discretion award
up to 2 Bonus Points to the contestants with spectacular leaping
agility or innovative freeflight moves.
Also in 1992 we
found a 360 degree change in philosophy. Instead of penalizing previous
World Finalists and World Champions with the former compensatory system
we now found a policy that gave current World Finalists an automatic
berth into the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the Regional Finals. The current
World Finalists still had to go out and do a routine in the first
round, but regardless of their effort or performance they were still
able to compete head-to-head in the final two rounds.
Also found in the 1992 AWI Guidelines under Regional Format Specifics:
(defined as teams, thrower and dog, who have not competed in a Regional
event before) will be allowed 60 seconds to perform Freeflight while
teams with previous Regional experience will be allowed 90 seconds. All
competitors have an equal chance to make the final rounds as teams are
scored on what they do in the time provided, not on the amount of time
this, my eighth year of competition I finally showed up at a Regional
competition with my routine on paper and memorized, and finally
qualified for my first World Finals.
By 1993 the 60 second novice rule had disappeared from the AWI Guidelines. The official sponsor had gone from Friskies Come 'N Get It to simply Friskies.
also saw the wording under Degree of Difficulty clarified. Instead of high-risk maneuvers the wording changed to challenging
This was also the first and only year that we saw an
interesting twist to the challenge of qualifying for the World Finals.
There was a drawing comprised of the names of each 3rd place finisher
from the each regional competition for two added spots at that year's
We saw an exciting change this year – the addition of an Open Final.
From the 1994 AWI Guidelines:
1994 we have added an Open Final. Any competitor, who has not already
won a trip to the 1994 World Finals, will be allowed to compete in the
Suddenly, we all had a very strong incentive to
continue our workouts throughout the summer and as a result it seemed
that more than a few teams went from just good to very good. This event
brought teams together from across the country and gave some truly
talented teams a dose of national exposure that had previously only
been found at the World Finals.
Also from the 1994 AWI Guidelines we saw a 50 team limit or 10:30 a.m. registration cutoff, whichever occurred first.
major change happened this year and it has had a huge impact on the way
we were judged as competitors. Under the Execution category the
following wording had been eliminated:
. . . particularly where
they are of a non-routine nature. The judges look for quality here, not
necessarily the number of catches made or not made.
Our catch to
miss ratio had always had some impact on our scores, but suddenly we
could no longer fall back on the subjective criteria of a non-routine
nature and quality.
In essence, at this point if you wanted a
trick to count, you had better execute and make the catch.
1996 more changes were in store for AWI with a sponsor name change from
simply Friskies to Friskies ALPO or to most simply ALPO.
As a point of clarification the Guidelines in 1996 included the following:
tricks or moves that begin or end with disc in flight are judged. In
other words, the disc must be in the air at some point in order for the
move to be scored. Tricks where the disc is handed off to the dog will
not be counted.
The admonition on vaults had also moved out of
the Leaping Agility category and was now simply placed at the end of
the four judging categories.
In 1996 we heard rumblings of
something called the QUADRUPED. The first QUADRUPED event was a
one-heat performance for the Jacksonville Jaguars in April.
was offically up and running. The first open competition took
place in April where Don Dearing & PERTH edged out Chuck Hensley
& RASCAL for the win.
Melissa Heeter became first female
trainer to win the World Championship Title and again disproved the
notion that vaults were a necessary element in a World Champions
Late that year we started hearing from Greg Tresan
about the possible formation of the International Disc Dog Handlers
Irv Lander passed away on
May 29th after a short illness. This man had more influence in our
sport than any other single individual probably ever will and his
passing left a void not only in our sport, but also in many, many
lives. Anyone who has ever enjoyed watching or competing in a disc
competition owes Irv a large measure of gratitude.
A personal memory of Irv: Irv's
kindness was legendary and it first touched me back in 1989. That year I missed the World Finals by half a point. There were no second chance Open's to look forward to and I'm sure the disappointments of the
day's events were heavily etched across my face. Irv either saw or
sensed this disappointment. Who knows maybe, through the empathy that
helped save many a dog's life, he felt my sadness and disappointment.
What ever the case may be, he truly touched me that day when he invited
Flash and I to perform later that evening along with Alex Stein, Peter
Bloeme and the first and second place finishers at half time of the
Dallas Cowboy game. I'll always cherish the memories of that evening.
Thanks again Irv.
The ALPO/AWI went from a single Open
Regional Finals to East and West Open Regionals and we saw the World
Finals swell to 16 competitors.
The IDDHA became a reality and offered for the first time in the history of our sport a way to test, title and rank disc dogs.
in 1998 Lou McCammon became involved with Purina Dog Food and we saw
the birth of the highly entertaining, made for TV event known as the
Incredible Dog Challenge
. The Challenge showcases the best-of-the-best
in a number of dog sports which includes the high powered Freestyle
Flying Disc competition.
Disc dog competitors have two and a half
minutes to showcase both themselves and their dogs in the most
creative, most energetic, and the most entertaining routines possible
with the handlers choice of using an unlimited number of discs. It
started out as an Invite Only due to time restraints and the number
of different events, but in 2002 the IDC added a Qualifier Day to give
some of the locals a chance to qualify to compete head-to-head against
the "Big Dogs" in Saturday's TV Round.
The Challenge was also probably
the first to hold contests in the snow. The IDC comprises 3-4 regional
events a year in various cities with a National Finals held at the
Purina Farms the first week of Oct.
Peter Bloeme established the PAWS Freestyle scoring system.
Distance/Accuracy replaced Mini-Distance.
Pre-Registration was required for the first time at Regional events.
Sport Division was introduced that gave contestants a separate
division. This also reintroduced competitors
with the wonderful option to compete with a 2nd dog at Regional events.
Bob Evans became first competitor to win a World Championship Title with two separate dogs.
After many years of support Friskies ALPO bowed out as national sponsor at the conclusion of the 2000 season.
in 2000, The QUAD became the disc dog world's first national point
series competition with The QUADRUPED Series. In August 2000 Chris
Sexton & LAIKA were crowned the Men's Champion, and Janice Hensley
& RIKER became the Women's Champion.
In December the United
Stated Disc Dog Nationals
announced the formation of a steering
committee dedicated to organizing the annual Nationals Championship
Series that would be commencing in 2002. The US Disc Dog Nationals
promised to be an exciting contest in which any team could compete
regardless of their Club membership status or political affiliation
within the sport.
With the loss of a national
sponsor Peter Bloeme established the Skyhoundz
Championship in the
proud tradition of the Ashley Whippet Invitational and continued with
Local, Regional and World Championship competitions.
Frisbee Dog Organization
(UFO) was established as an organization
committed to running high quality, competitor friendly Frisbee dog
contests. They held five major tournaments and many more local and
international tournaments that culminated in the crowning of a World
Cup Champion and a World Cup Club.
The IDDHA held their World Championships over the course of three days with a total cash purse of $5,600.
The USDDN start holding sanctioned competitions.
the first time we saw international eligibility at Regional Finals and
there were plans to bring international competitors to the World Finals.
attacks almost derailed the World Finals this year. The World Finals
were cancelled in Washington D.C. and World Finalists coming in from
Japan were sent back home.
With great effort and expense Skyhoundz was
able reschedule and move the World Finals to Atlanta, GA. and even
though the Japanese could not return Skyhoundz hosted a national
contingent of competitors.
We also saw the introduction and use of the all new K10 Disc
at the Skyhoundz World Finals.
This may have been the busiest and most exciting year in the history of our sport.
USDDN (US Disc Dog Nationals), the UFO (Unified Frisbee Dog
(Flying Disc Dog Open), Purina IDC (Incredible Dog
Challenge), and Skyhoundz were all in full swing, which meant many
competitors may have competed with both Fastback Frisbees and K-10
discs and could have possibly competed under five different judging
criteria with time limits ranging from 90 seconds to 150 seconds, and
disc limits from 5 to 7 to 10 to unlimited.
Even more disc dogs
clubs were being organized and there were regionally and nationally
organized events occurring across the country.
There were numerous
State Champions and we had three National Champions with the USDDN,
FDDO and IDC all crowning separate and different Champions under three
different judging criteria.
The UFO crowned a World Cup Champion.
Skyhoundz hosted the first ever truly international field of
competitors composed of both Japanese and Americans competitors and
crowned a World Champion in both freestyle and distance/accuracy
divisions. In addition, the UFO and FDDO awarded Club Championships.
seems like a lifetime ago. Our sport has grown, matured, and flourished
in ways I could not have conceived when I started. Judging criteria has
and continues to change and evolve.
In 1986 I went to two or three
local competitions and one regional event. The only competitors that
traveled any great distances were on their way to the World Finals. I
never dreamed I would be headed to competitions in places like Los
Angeles, CA, St. Louis, MO, Jacksonville, FL, Louisville, KY,
Birmingham, AL, St. Petersburg, FL, Washington, DC, or Atlanta, GA.
was rare in those early years in the sport to see competitors with more
than one dog. It seemed that many of the established teams just kind of
dropped out of the sport when their dog got to old to compete.
in 1986 that I had my first exposure to a couple of World Class
routines. I don't remember how many throws, catches or misses Bill
Murphy and Pepper Nichols had, but I do remember as if it were
yesterday, a jaw dropping sense of wonderment and amazement. Bill with
his World Champion Bouncin' Boo and Pepper Nichols with his World
Finalist Chino were simply astonishing and from time to time I still
draw inspiration from the sense of amazement I felt on that day and now
each time I take the field I try to remember that I to may be
influencing someone just starting out in the sport.
with eager anticipation at what my next 17 years in this sport will
bring, but I think certain aspects of our sport will remain
intrinsically and forever unchanged. Give me a dog, a disc and some
open space and the sheer joy and excitement that first captured my
spirit so long ago comes flooding back to me. Take away the disc dog
clubs, take away the organizations and their competitions, take away
the titles, take it all away and you will still find me throwing a disc
to my dogs.
The clubs and competitions have pushed me to work
hard to excel and remain competitive, they have also brought a host of
treasured friends, valued relationships, and enough cherished memories
to last a lifetime. But, as valued as all of that is it will never
replace what has kept me in this sport for so long - the effortless,
almost childlike joy from playing a game of throw and catch with my
So while looking ahead with eager anticipation I also
look back and can see an activity that for me will continue to
transcend all change. An activity built on the foundations of passion
and excitement punctuated by a wonderful kaleidoscope of uncomplicated
joys and simple delights. An activity built on a foundation of trust
and faith between me and my dogs involving a simple piece of plastic.
maybe most importantly, an activity where the tricks I teach my dogs
are in the end far less important than the lessons of friendship, faith
and fidelity that they teach me.