Early History of Disc Dog Sport
Who threw the first frisbee to a dog? Very likely Fred Morrison, or an employee of Wham-o; as soon as plastic discs left their molds, dogs knew exactly what to do with them! Although we may never know the 'first' frisbee dog, we know the dogs that put the sport on the map, and their owners who created the competitions that are still running today!
In 1974, 50,000 spectators at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles jumped to their feet and cheered when an uninvited canine athlete named Ashley Whippet ran 35 miles an hour, leaped nine feet in the air, and caught Frisbee discs from his owner Alex Stein for eight uninterrupted minutes between innings. But neither that audience, nor the millions watching the pennant-crucial game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds on television, could have predicted they were witnessing the birth of a canine competition that would soon thrill legions of dog lovers throughout the world. Ashley's national stadium debut was engineered by his owner Alex Stein, then a student at Ohio State. When Hollywood talent scouts failed to return Stein's calls, he took matters into his own hands and smuggled Ashley into Dodger Stadium on the evening of August 4, 1974. Ashley went on to break all records, winning the Canine Frisbee Disc World Championships three times.
Later, Ashley starred in a television commercial, entertained Amy Carter and her friends at the White House, performed at halftime at Super Bowl XII, and was a guest with Stein on such television programs as: "Wide World of Sports," "Good Morning America," "The Tonight Show," and others. He entertained at practically every NFL and Major League Baseball stadium in the United States and Canada, and starred in "Floating Free" -- a film documentary nominated for an Academy Award.
Before Ashley showed up in Southern California, there was already a frisbee catching dog movement in its early stages. The main innovator behind this new application of frisbee was a man named Eldon McIntire. Eldon was a dog trainer and a frisbee afficianado, and it didn't take long for him to see how the disc sparked the interest of his dog, Hyper Hank. Hank was an Australian Shepherd, and Eldon began refining techniques of throw & catch with Hank that challenged Hank's tracking abilities. The 'sport' was in the early development stage when Ashley exploded on the scene. Inspired by the event, Eldon McIntire contacted a local radio show to make them aware of this growing phenomenon. The radio station responded by organizing the first ever frisbee dog competition, "The Fearless Fido Frisbee Fetching Fracas"! This Classic event represented the beginning of the competitive aspect of the sport. Eldon, the innovator, and Hank, the prototypical frisbee dog, won the competition.
With the Frisbee craze beginning to peak, the new sport of canine frisbee was added to the line-up of events in the World Frisbee Championships at the Rose Bowl. Eldon and Hank performed all over the country, at Major League Baseball events, NFL, etc. They were featured at the last "College All-Star" game ever held, an event that was broadcast during the 1976 Olympics, and due to a fortuitous television edit, Hank and Eldon performed for an audience of nearly 1 billion people world-wide.
Eldon and Alex, with Hank and Ashley, travelled and performed for many years. Along with Whamo promoter and PR genius Irv Lander, they created the sport of canine disc, and managed the competitions for many years.
History of the Colorado Disc Dogs
There were certainly dogs catching frisbees in Colorado prior to the early 90's, and there were even competitions being run in some cities. Posters from the 1984 Rocky Mountain Frisbee Championships even advertised frisbee dog demonstrations. But until 1994, there was no organized club to promote the sport and introduce new people to this great pasttime. In 1993, Californian Rick Brydum loaded up his family and came out to the Rockies. Rick found no clubs, and very few competitions.
Rick Brydum's frisbee dog interest and abilities were honed in the '80's Southern California frisbee dog scene. Regularly competing with the likes of Lou McCammon, Gary Suzuki, Bill Watters, Gary Gomes, Reed Ferguson, and other folks, Rick was in the thick of the sport at its very epicenter. Rick and his two Aussies, Sean and Sasha, were excellent competitors -- multitime regional finalists. Rick's frisbee dogs appeared in a Japanese shoe commercial, and Rick and Sean eventually won the Pacific Coast Championship. These two amazing Aussies were also one of the first "double dog" teams around! Rick brought all this experience and enthusiasm to Colorado in 1993, and in 1994, started the state's first frisbee dog club, the Front Range Flyers K9 Disc Club.
Around the same time, another Californian refugee and his family moved to Colorado. Glen Medford brought a mess of freestyle tricks and a lot of willingness to help out and teach the younger generations starting off in Colorado. Glen's dog Brittany had traveled the world catching frisbees, and even appeared in a Sunkist ad. Glen was very influential to the first "native" Colorado Frisbee dog freestylers.
Rick shortly adopted another great Aussie, Barney, and with a new club and an itch to make something happen in the state, Rick contacted Irv Lander, the executive director of the Ashley Whippet Invitational, and co-founder of the sport. Rick told Irv there was not much here, but lots of potential. Irv was excited to have a local contact in Colorado, as they had wanted to put an event in the Denver area for some time. Rick and Irv worked together, and the result was one of the most famous and formidable contests to ever run -- The Open Regional.
At the time, the disc dog world consisted of the Ashley Whippet World Championships, owned and operated by Ashley Whippet Enterprises (AWE). AWE events consisted of several regional contests. The top two competitors from each would earn a trip to the World Championships. The Open Regional was conceived as a "last chance" regional to earn two of those World Championship berths. The first Open took place in 1994, at Dove Valley Park, across from the Denver Broncos training center. Nearly 100 teams showed up -- the cream of the frisbee dog crop! The event continued through 1997. In 1998, it was split into 2 regionals, an east and a west, held on their respective coasts. The success of the Open regional spawned the Colorado Canine Challenge, which was first held in 1998. The CCC continues the tradition of top flight frisbee dogs gathering to establish the top dog!
As Rick was helping to establish some new competitions in the state, his work had enough of an influence to cause a second Colorado club to come into existence. In early 1996, in the frisbee-saturated Ft. Collins area, Chris Sexton, Liz Brennfleck and Todd Stevens started the Northern Colorado Disc Dogs. This club was a smaller, regional club, hosting the Ft. Collins competition and regular playdays. The two clubs always attended and assisted each other's events, with Rick providing guidance and experience to the excited upstarts.
To the south of Denver, another of Rick's proteges, Rob Provost, was building a contest of his own. The Colorado Springs scene grew largely out of Rob's efforts in that city, both in demos and at his heavily attended contest. Rob's dog Hershey would prove to be one of the most consistent and excellent MiniDistance frisbee dogs around, and was the inspiration for the Club's annual "Hershey Memorial Award," given to the team with the highest MiniDistance score of the year.
Rick, Rob, Chris and Todd worked together to run great contests, and very soon, club resources were combined. The two clubs ran as one entity, and in early 1999, the last vestiges of 2 separate clubs were retired. The new club name was unveiled -- The Colorado Disc Dogs. A killer logo and more contests and shows than ever made Colorado a frisbee dog hotspot, and it continues to be today.
Today, Rick and Chris still are still actively involved with club, along with a ton of support from many club members. The Colorado State Championship Series, which awards the Colorado Cup to the State Champ each year, was started in 1997. The series continues today, with Throw & Catch, Freestyle and Youth Champions recognized each year as well. Playing host to prestigious events like the AWI Qualifiers, The Hero Cup, and World Cup events, Colorado will be in the fast lane for frisbee dog action for a long time to come!