Why dogs, discs will be soaring in Naperville

  • Tom Wehrli of Naperville is coordinating two disc-catching events for dogs and their handlers this weekend, the Ashley Whippet Invitational on Saturday and a UFO world cup series event on Sunday.

      Tom Wehrli of Naperville is coordinating two disc-catching events for dogs and their handlers this weekend, the Ashley Whippet Invitational on Saturday and a UFO world cup series event on Sunday. BEV HORNE | Staff Photographer August 2009

  • Dogs will be jumping for joy -- and discs -- Saturday and Sunday along the Riverwalk in Naperville during two competitions hosted in conjunction with the Naperville Jaycees Last Fling festival.

      Dogs will be jumping for joy -- and discs -- Saturday and Sunday along the Riverwalk in Naperville during two competitions hosted in conjunction with the Naperville Jaycees Last Fling festival. Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer September 2012

 
 
Updated 9/3/2015 2:03 PM

Discs and dogs both will be flying this weekend along the Riverwalk in Naperville.

Two uniquely named events hosted in conjunction with the Naperville Jaycees Last Fling festival will challenge canines to catch discs tossed by their owners, who will be competing for points or maybe a berth to a championship event.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Tom Wehrli of Naperville is coordinating the Ashley Whippet Invitational on Saturday and a UFO world cup series competition on Sunday.

Any dog owner who wants to compete can come out for the Ashley Whippet Invitational during registration, which begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

The competition is named for a dog "so famous it had its own American Express card," Wehrli said. Ashley Whippet was a greyhound-like dog who gained popularity in 1974 for leaping to catch Frisbees on the field during a Los Angeles Dodgers game.

Wehrli said Ashley Whippet could jump 9 feet high and run more than 35 mph, and his athleticism became the inspiration for disc-catching competitions still held today.

The competition includes two events: toss and catch, in which the goal is to complete as many catches as possible in a two-minute span, and freestyle, which rewards creativity and showmanship. Wehrli said "high-energy" breeds such as border collies, Australian shepherds and cattle dogs often excel at the sport.

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The event is newcomer-friendly, but experienced competitors -- including those from as far away as Canada and California -- often put novices to shame.

"People come out of backyards saying 'My dog is the best dog in the world,'" Wehrli said.

But when they compete with dogs and handlers who have performed for NFL halftime shows, their cockiness fades.

The top four finishers in the Ashley Whippet Invitational will be invited to the event's world championships in October in Los Angeles.

At the Last Fling, the disc-catching fun continues with an event in the UFO world cup series. UFO originally stood for United Frisbee Dog Operations, but that was before concerns arose about using the word Frisbee, a trademark, in the name.

The UFO contest format is similar to Ashley Whippet's, only distances required for the toss and catch portion are measured in meters instead of yards, said Wehrli, one of the UFO's original members. Competitors in this series are seeking to rack up as many points as they can to rise to the top of North American or world standings.

Even for those who aren't participating, the dog-and-disc events can be an intriguing display. Both events take place from about 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Riverwalk Grand Pavilion west of Centennial Beach, accessible from Jackson Avenue west of Mill Street.

"We get thousands of people that walk the Riverwalk that stop by and watch," Wehrli said.

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