K9 Frisbee World Championships returning to Naperville
Animals running on the field during a sports event catch the attention of even the most sports agnostic fans.
Think "rally cat," the kitten that recently dashed onto the field at Busch Stadium, precipitating a score-reversing win for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Now go back in time to 1974, when Alex Stein and his dog, Ashley Whippet, suddenly appeared in the outfield at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles between innings during a game with the Cincinnati Reds. The pair's prowess with a Frisbee left the crowd enthralled.
Though Stein was arrested and fined, the duo later was invited to perform at the World Frisbee Championships. And that's how Frisbee dog competitions got started, said Tom Wehrli, organizer of the Ashley Whippet K9 Frisbee World Championships coming to Naperville Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 2 and 3.
"That dog ran 38 miles an hour," said Wehrli, who has been involved in disc dog competitions for decades, both participating with his own dogs and organizing events like this weekend's.
He and his wife even maintain the Ashley Whippet Museum inside their Naperville home, where memorabilia, autographs, plaques, trophies, posters and photos reign. A look inside is available at ashleywhippetmuseum.com.
Wehrli said dogs and their owners/trainers will be coming from all over the United States and Japan, China and Canada to compete in the world championship. On Saturday, there will be a last-chance qualifying event for the championship title before the main event on Sunday.
Naperville last hosted a Frisbee dog world championship event three or four years ago, Wehrli said, and often has hosted qualifying events.
A big change this year is the event's new location at Nike Sports Complex on the southeast corner of Mill Street and Diehl Road. In the past, the competition had been in Centennial Park along the Naperville Riverwalk, but the park is near a shooting range used by a Naperville gun club. Wehrli said the sound of weapons firing upsets dogs.
"Over the past five years, we've had three dogs walk off the field. Dogs can hear loud noises 50 times better than we can," he said.
Past competitions have coincided with the Naperville Jaycees' Last Fling, the Labor Day weekend festival along the Riverwalk and in downtown Naperville. Wehrli said he is grateful to the Jaycees and Naperville Park District for those organizations' cooperation with the Frisbee contests and for the availability of Nike Park, a park district property.
The new location, he said, is about two miles north of the Last Fling site, allowing Fling visitors to still enjoy both the festival and the K9 Frisbee championships.
"We have tons of parking, it's free to spectators and we're going to have bleachers brought out," he said. "It's going to work out."
Wehrli said winners will be presented with trophies, but no monetary award is given. He said about 40 human-canine partners are expected to compete.
One of this year's competitors is Mark Faragoi, a Plainfield resident. Wehrli said Faragoi won the Purina Challenge three years in a row. He's also appeared with his dogs on "The David Letterman Show" and "Inside Edition."
Many of Faragoi's competitors have similarly strong resumes.
"It's going to be unbelievable, the stuff these dogs and trainers do," Wehrli said.
Wehrli said a variety of dog breeds will be represented, from pedigreed pooches to mixed-breed dogs.
"Mutts" are often among the most agile and athletic dogs, he said.
"Seventy-five percent of the dogs coming out next week are from the shelters," he said. "Any time you can go out and save one, it's a good thing."